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“I can say from experience that certain clients prefer women lawyers”

Publié le par Kyradubai

“I can say from experience that certain clients prefer women lawyers”

Women come a long way from the « What are you doing here? What are women doing at the court?” type of comments common three years ago. But Diana Hamade, an Emirati lawyer and owner of her own cabinet in Dubai, explains how Arab women have a bigger challenge, much more at stake and how what is happening in the region comes as an additional concern. INTERVIEW.

How many women are working at Dubai Courts, lawyers and judges?

I am not aware precisely of the number of women lawyers registered with the Ministry of Justice or the Dubai rulers Court. But what I can say is that on daily basis I meet at Dubai Courts around 40 women out of 100 lawyers. The number of women judges at Dubai courts is five. One of them is an Appeal Court judge.

Is it a very new trend?

Yes, it only happened three years ago. The first judge ever was from Al Ain, appointed at Al Ain court.

So things are evolving in the judicial system ?

A lot. It is very interesting. My daughter wants to study law but she is primarily thinking of practicing in the DIFC courts because she prefers to study English Law for instance. Now we have Civil Law Courts based on and in line with the French Legal system, DIFC courts which are English Courts in addition to alternative dispute resolution systems and domains such as Arbitration, adjudication and mediation.

How do you get to choose one from the other?

Unfortunately, for us it is difficult to be in two courts. I may not want to appear before the DIFC courts although I am a practitioner there, as I am not yet practiced in the English courts. Being a lawyer with right of Audience before all UAE courts including DIFC Courts would not automatically render one as a practitioner in all courts. I can see that many of the new coming lawyers may prefer the English courts to the Arabic speaking UAE courts especially after the extension of jurisdiction the DIFC Courts obtained, but we still got to wait and see.

You are leaving tonight for the Arab Women in the Global Economy Conference in London. Are you very active on advocating women’s rights?

I started writing for The National four years ago. I was a columnist for almost three years and I published articles in a number of publications, on legal matters. I spoke about human rights, women’s rights. I always spoke about women somehow. I am invited from time to time to women’s forums in the Arab world to speak about promoting women’s rights and opportunities to be raised in certain practices; the latest thereof was on promoting women to become board members. There is a lot of movement to push the women further to leadership positions. The conference I am going to now is about Arab women integrating into the global economy. There are very little of them in the financial services for instance. They have the money so they are the clients but what about them taking part in restructuring the financial services and designing them to suit women better. Women have their special needs and they have to be included in the organizational structure to assist women efficiently. I spoke about Arab women on boards in family owned businesses and now I will be talking about women in the financial services sector.

Why are they still not integrated?

The problems in our countries are many. Starting from the home ending at the work place with everybody involved. The media takes on a huge responsibility, the regulator, the government etc…

The Financial industry is still a male dominated sector. As a lawyer, almost four years ago I wrote an article about women lawyers in the UAE which was then my first. The piece was published in a special book on the UAE. I swear back then the men were asking women « What are you doing here? What are women doing at the court?”.

What made them change their attitude?

The growing numbers of women in the legal domain and the way women have proven themselves being lawyers in this country. Now they are having their own cabinets. The first two lawyers in the UAE are still around until now and it was the two of them only until 10 years ago when women started entering the legal practice.

What about the clients?

I can say from experience that certain clients prefer women. They come to me because I am a woman.


They think men are not focused like us, multifunctional like us. They think that men can be distracted from their work. We are very responsible, we deliver on time, and we are very committed. You know what I am talking about.

And only women know how hard they had to work to get there?

For women it is a continuous challenge. Every day it is a day to make it or break it. To prove yourself and deal with all the difficulties, worldwide but Arab women have a bigger challenge and much more at stake.

But what is the difference for Arab women? Is it religion? Tradition?

First of all, think about tradition. How many families don’t want their daughters to work? They try to keep them out of work. They tell them they should not work, that they don’t need to. This is the biggest challenge for a lot of girls.

Is it still the case?

To a certain extent there are still conservative families everywhere in every country. It is against their customs, their traditions; women should not be allowed to travel on their own. It limits your ability to do a lot of things, join certain sectors of business. Then there is the acceptance of your male counterparts in the work place. They either take you in or make your life hell. In many sectors men still do not accept women.

Did you experience it yourself?

Men in the judicial system are not very used to women in the Arab world. Women are still rare or at least hardly found. When I started appearing at the courts, the judges would question my sources, abilities, skills, etc… but after some time and when I proved that my legal skills and knowledge were satisfactory and up to their expectations things changed dramatically.. Men lawyers did not like it in the beginning either. They did not hire women in their cabinet, tried to keep them away. But then they had to face the reality.

Aren’t the social constraints much stronger then the religious ones on women in Arab countries?

True. Religion can be interpreted in a more flexible way. There are people who can make it easier for us. Look at the UAE, we all wear what we want, we can practice every job, just like Western countries. The leadership of the country is allowing the religion to be flexible in favor of women. Those who don’t see women good enough claim Islam prevents women from working but it is mainly social issues that are a restraint to women. Religion does not say that we can’t work. Religion does not say that we can’t travel. It is mainly the social set of mind of men.

What can change that? Time?

Yes indeed time. What should be done is simple and clear; engage society movements and integration of civil society to push women agendas further. Because women’s agendas are just kept in the shadow, nobody wants to see them, keep their eyes closed on them. Civil society has a big role. And civil societies are not developed in the Arab world. So women just have to jump to try to get where they want.

And develop more and more role models?

It would be great if we can set such role models for the coming generations.

Do you see yourself as a role model?

I am proud to say that a lot of young girls look up to me and say they would love to become what I am. My wish is to be really what they think I am! I am short on things. I wish I can do better. But so far I am happy that some girls want to study law because they saw what I am doing, they read my articles; believe that we can make a difference. It’s amazing.

Are you part of any women’s organizations?

Unfortunately I don’t have time with my work and three children. But I never say « no » to any opportunity to help, to do communal work and I take initiatives on my own to help many establishments. But I can’t keep up with them.

But you attend talks and conferences?

Yes I always try to do something which I believe will hopefully make a difference. I joined the International Bar Association as a speaker on women in Islam and intersection between civil law and sharia law in the last two years. The first session was held in Dubai. The second time, I was with the women’s rights group with all the women lawyers from all over the word. We gathered and spoke about issues. I spoke about Muslim women and how Islam is a promoter not a preventer. It was a paper which was very highly regarded.

What was the answer to that question?

Islam is misinterpreted in a very sad way. The way the Quran is interpreted takes away a lot of its virtues. It’s a religion for the betterment of the world. I don’t think Islam wants women left behind. It’s the interpretation. The sayings of the Prophet were so unfairly interpreted vis à vis women. All around the world, do you see one woman scholar? A female pope? This is all around the world. Men stay right in the way. There are so many verses in the Quran you can read in four different ways. That is why of course we have sects and scholarly views, but again if you choose to read them in a way that prevents us you are able to do that. Arab and Muslim women are the poorest in the world and the ones who are paying the dearest prices for injustice. Look at Pakistan, there are still honor crimes until now. This is just because they chose a verse, they keep just two words regardless of the beginning and the end of the verse and they say that a woman should be slaughtered. Who said that? It’s the word of a man.

I am impressed by your freedom of speech. You can talk freely ?

Where and when? Now with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, I can only wonder who can talk anymore. All the rights the women had gained in Tunisia for instance are all disappearing and vanishing … In the last five years with the Arab spring, we just moved back. It is a pity and it is worrying. But for the UAE, from day one the country has put itself as a global city. Look at everyone. I have friends form Japan, France, Germany, and Australia. Where else do you have people walking from so many different countries in the same neighborhood and attending the same schools? We are indeed global citizens living in a global city.

Do you think the UAE could serve as an example for the region, for the Arab world?

That’s what we were looking forward to but it doesn’t look like it. It seems that around us things are turning differently.

Are you afraid for the future?

Oh yes. Not for people my age but our kids. I would like our kids to go away, but where?

Regarding the laws, what can be improved for women?

First of all, the inheritance in the sharia law. Women should be treated fairly. If in any way they are prejudiced or harmed the regulators can fix things and interfere for the good of women. Certain laws based on Sharia should not be applicable to non Muslim living in the UAE, such as the inheritance law. Who will change that is a good question. Until now nothing has changed.

Women don’t have the same rights as men. You talked about inheritance, what else?

A Muslim woman cannot divorce her husband. She is not allowed to, unless she has very good reasons. But he can divorce her overnight. They have to fight and in most cases it will take a year to a year and a half.

What do answer to people in Europe who say « well this is all very good, but if you where so free why don’t you stop covering yourself then and then you’ll really be en accord with yourself?»

It is part of uprising. People used to see their mothers with their scarfs. They wear it with amazing designs. Mainly it is something embeded in Arab women’S aesthetics This is the way you should look like.

Of course we are talking about Dubai and no other Arab countries?

Yes. Not all. I know in France people hate to see women covering their faces, wearing Niqab. I don’t like it either. I think they do it just to make a statement. For us here it is nothing. Everybody wears abaya, it is cute.

In the Cabinet, there are 4 women out of 30 Ministers. Is it a good number?

It is a good number. It is almost the same ratio compared to the West. As for the Federal National Council (FNC), which is more or less like a Parliament -it has an advisory role-, there are women as well. We are happy because at least there are there to defend women issues, to review laws, to give comments, to ask for laws which are not already made. Even if the FNC has a marginal role at least there are women there.

What would you wish for women here in the next 20 years?

In the UAE, I honestly think the next step is the sky.


The sky ! You know, your limit here is the sky. Nothing has stopped a woman from doing whatever she wants to do. Everywhere there are men, women are being accepted. It wasn’t the case 20 years ago at all. Now you can see them everywhere in the government, in business, medicine, engineering, on boards- which is amazing. Now there are still social boundaries. I think that in 20 years we will see much less of them.

What about the region?

What’s happened in Egypt has given us a very sour feeling. Tunisia was the most amazing country with the most incredible achievements. They stopped the four wives. They had an inheritance law giving the same rights to women. They had a law just like in western countries. The Arab world seems to be doomed. But we are going on hoping that things will somehow change dramatically to become great and ultimately perfect.


Diana Hamade Al Ghurair, a UAE lawyer and legal consultant specialized in civil and commercial law with a focus on Shariah related matters where separation, custody and inheritance are primarily concerned. Diana obtained here Law degree from the UAE, Al Ain University in Sharia & Law. Then she went to Aberdeen University in Scotland where she got her LLM in International Commercial law.

Diana was born in the UAE from Lebanese parents (mother Palestinian Lebanese). Her father was one of the first practicing lawyers of this country. He contributed to the law making in the UAE and authored a number of established opinions.

He passed away 15 years ago but Diana started practicing law only five years ago as she was employed by Dubai government at the Chamber of Commerce and the DIFC in legal advising capacities. Her cabinet now is a boutique law firm, called the International advocate Legal services.

“I can say from experience that certain clients prefer women lawyers”

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Emirati Writer Ameera Al Hakawai is far from being "Desperate in Dubai"

Publié le par Kyradubai

Emirati Writer Ameera Al Hakawai is far from being "Desperate in Dubai"

Scandalous writer and author of national best seller Desperate In Dubai, Ameera Al Hakawati, remains a mystery eventhough she is the most humble and down to earth young lady one can imagine. She leads her life according to the values of Islam and has a great sense of humor. INTERVIEW.

How many books have you sold now ?

This is the third print. The first was 10'000 copies. Now I am not sure, I don’t have the exact figure. But Hamdulillah it’s doing well, especially in this region.

Your book is really a page turner. How did you manage to catch the very souls of your characters ? You were born here ?

I was born in the UK. I moved here eight years ago.

It seems you’ve always lived here ?

I have always had close connections wih the UAE, coming and going. It is really a part of who I am. I know a lot of people here and that’s what inspired me to write the book. It is such an interesting place and it is so different from anywhere else. Like that the locals are a minority for example. I felt that nobody had explored that yet. I wanted to take the opportunity to do that.

And you chose characters from different backgrounds, reflecting this flavor of Dubai ?

Exactly. Obviously I realized it would be impossible to write about every single person and nationality. There is so many different people here. I knew I would have to pick one angle. The challenge of writing about a place that not many people have written about, people are going to think this is a book that represent Dubai. And I did not want to be completely representative.

You also wanted to come up with a catchy story ?

The location is secondary. The story, the women, their lives…

How did you imagine these lives ?

A lot of it is based on stuff that’s happened.

Are they friends of yours ?

There are friends of mine, friends of friends, acquaintances… Things that I have seen, that I have heard about.

Well you’ve heard much more than I have !

You should get out more !

Emirati women seem quite secretive and Lady Luxe the main character makes us breach into the hidden aspect of their lives ?

It is not so much secretive. It is just that there are so few Emiratis compared to every one else. It seems very very diffcult to know them unless you work with Emiratis. Lady Luxe is not based on one particular person. I have taken bits from loads of different people and got inspired by a half Emirati, half British fashion designer that I know. She also has this double identity - English and Emirati - although not as much as Lady Luxe, constantly trying to balance both and struggling against those two parts of her identity. Lady Luxe is primarily based on her. But the blond wig, that’s completely fictional.

These are ingredients for a good novel ?

Yes to give it some drama. It is a metaphore of the double life that people lead.

Have you met a lot of women who lead that sort of life ?

I would not say a lot, but I would not say it is completey uncommon. Especially young girls. Before they get married, they are struggling. They live in a country where their culture is pretty much one thing and then they are exposed to so many different cultures at the same time. Dubai is a very different place. Some expats might find it difficult and closed minded but parts of it is very very open.

Is it quite dangerous for the gilrs to take such risks ?

Yes but that happens everywhere in the world. In any Arab country it is the same thing. Culture, society teach one thing but then as a young woman or as a teenager it is a society that is open to globalization. You are watching MTV, Hollywood movies, reading books, learning about other cultures, seeing different ways of lives. There is always that constant struggle regardless of being Emirati, Syrian, Lebanese, Indian, Pakistani… Most traditional cultures face very similar issues.

Why did you wish to remain anonymous ?

When I started writing the blog, I found it liberating. I did not want to worry so much about what people think and about criticism from other Arabs, Muslims, talking about subjects that are not open. And as a writer you are always scared about putting your work out there as well. I could write without worrying if anyone hated it. I could just write and enjoy it and see what happened if it was a complete failure and avoid a public humiliation.

Family wise or society wise it could have been a risk for you ?

I would not say a risk but my family would have concerns. My family knows now, at least close family, my parents.

What do they say about it ?

My mom was happy to read my book and proud of me but at the same time worried about such controversial thing. « Can’t you just tell a normal story ? Why did you have to do this ?» Well this is the story that I have.

And this is what people like ?

That’s who I am. I did not want to be fake, write about something that was not about me. Writing a book is difficult. You have to be passionate about what you are writing. You have to be interested. I did not want to get bored half way.

Did you experience censorship ?

I did. I don’t know how it works to be honest. But my blog was blocked initially. I am not sure whether it was DU or Etisalat but one of them did for a couple of months, when I got lots of traffic. I don’t know why especially now that you see books like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Yes but they don’t talk about Emirati women ?

So that must have been the only reason why it was blocked. But no one contacted me, send me a message saying « we’ve blocked you ». I juts tried to access it from work and I could not but then when I got home I could. So maybe it’s a good thing no one knows who I am, because I don’t want to get in trouble.

And you continued ?

Yes because lots of things are blocked so I did not pay much attention. But when the book went out it was taken off the shelves temporarily. It was removed at the beginning. It came to the UAE, I was super excited. Finally it was out on the shelves and the next day it was gone. I announced it on my blog, on my Facebook page : « You can finally get it ». People were waiting because they never knew how the story ended. And a day or two later, people told me that they could not put it on the shelf and sell it. The book shop said that they had a call from the Ministry of Interior who told them not to dispaly it until further notice. But no one told me nor my publisher.

You stopped the blog before publishing of course ?

Yes as soon as I got the publishing deal. I explained on my blog what had happened.

Do you still get an income from it right now ?

It’s difficult for me to talk about such things. But it’s alright, nothing amazing. You know extra spending money.

And what do you do in your life ?

I work full time in corporate communications. Still writing but very boring stuff. It is very draining this is why I don’t have time to think about writing the next one. I have the idea in my head. I am married as well. Three months after the book was out. I got super busy with that.

Your husband is supportive ?


He has got some limits ?

Being a typical Arab man, he has some limits. He is happy that this book is under a suden name. What people would say otherwise. « You wrote about some dodgy things here. » He loves the fact that I am successfull.

Did he wonder how you knew about them ?

No. But he was more like « People are gonna wonder how you know about that. » He knows me, who I am. They don’t realize that people can have imagination and can do research.

Do you realize you made a breakthrough here ?

I don’t see things like that. I see it as, I have a story, I told it. I was not trying to break through or anything. I wanted to write. I love writing. I am glad if this paves the way for other arab writers and people to express themselves.

Are you thinking about a movie ?

A few people came. But nothing really interesting. I went to a « From page to screen » session but you have to cut so much out and as a writer you are so close to your story… I don’t feel I would be able to do that.

How old are you ?

Twenty something.

As your characters are really based on true ones, isn’t there a little hypocrisy going on ?

Definitely, without a doubt, there is so much hypocrisy going on and at so many different levels. I would not say that it’s unique to this culture but it definitely goes on. Some people put on a religious gown and their heart is something totally different. Which is something I am totally against. I believe what you see is what you should get really. I can understand that some people have no choice but to portray that image of themselves. Too scared not too. Culturally it is a very strong thing, the family, the society. It is really really strong. And a lot of people, especially the youth, are not ready to break through. And the UAE is so young, it will take a long time before it comes to a stage where people have a different idea of freedom and modernity : what you should do and what you should not do.

Would you see yourself as an advocate for women’s progress in a way ?

Not really. Every woman advocates woman’s progress as a woman. As a woman you don’t want your gender to be held back. I think every human being, man or woman shoulg have a right to do what they believe in. If they don’t belive in God, they should be able to practice that and if they want ot study they should and if they don’t they shouldn’t.

The way you say things out loud, it’s one breach and then there will be another one and this is how society evolves in a way ?

It is a very difficult question. In this culture, women have rights but not the same as men. They have their own rights. Some of it is great. When we get married, our money is completely our own. Our husbands have absolutely no rights over it. But it’s his duty to pay the rent. This is great ! Women’s rights activists might say it’s wrong. You’re a woman, you should be equal to man and contribute. But then I feel that I want to keep that right and I would find that degrading. So my definition of modernity might be different because of who I am. Because of my culture and my religion.

What do think western, so called liberated women, have lost in their battle for equal rights ?

It is very interesting. I feel that about myself. We live in the same universe but parrallel. We have different ideas of what is freedom and liberation. Different things might make us happy. Like I have only recently started watching Sex and the City. And I feel sad for Carry. They are so desperate to get married and settle down. Here it is so normal. We marry so easily. I found someone I liked, he liked me too, we marry, end of the story. It was so simple. So I look at them and I think « Why did you complicate things so much ? » I feel so much pity for them. We have that kind of freedom. The freedom in knowing where your life’s leading. They are confused about where to get, what to do next. This whole worry we don’t have is liberating.

It is a question of perspective…

Yes that’s what it is. You foind it liberating to not cover and I find it liberating to cover. I love the fact that I don’t have to worry about my hair. Is it nice, shiny, etc ? I like wearing my abaya. I wake up and it takes me 20 minutes to get ready for work. Here are all my abayas hanging, I pick one. I don’t have to iron them. And I don’t have to worry about what’s under : sportswear, legging, jeans and T-shirt, whatever. I feel liberated. I think it’s great.

What if the world was governed by women ?

Honestly, it woudl be scary.

Too emotional maybe…

Maybe this is Arab women, I don’t know. I travelled recently to Saoudi for Umrah, a smaller haj (pilgrimage). When you are in Madina, the city where the Prophet immigrated to, it is slightly more segregated. So there I spent some time away from my husband. And then when we met again, we told each other what happened. So I told him my stroy about women pushing, shoving, screamimg, super emotional. And he was like, « Oh, the men weren’t like that. It was calm. » We need a balance : men need women, women need men. I don’t think one gender is superior to the other. I think we are both equal. We sometimes have different responsibilities. I like it personally. I like the fact that I work because I want to work but I am not career obsessed because I have a man to take care of me. And he likes to take care of me and me too. It’s a win win situation. I don’t want to be the man on the relationship. I don’t want to have that pressure on my head. I have to provide.

But you are also quite liberal. This is not the case for a lot of women ?

Of course. If I grew up in a family where I was not aloud to work, I would think completey differently and feel a rage for my rights. But at the same time, this is the problem. Women can work. The Prophet’s first wife was a really successfull business woman and He was an example. He showed that this is fine. He married a women 25 years older than him to show it is fine. Whereas culturally here it’s unheard of to marry a guy younger. He married a widower, a divorcee… He showed all these taboos should be broken : You think I am the best of all people and this is what I am doing. In terms of culture and religion there is a disparity. In the name of progress, you let go the good parts of your religion too.

How would you describe yourself ? Surely you are not Lady Luxe.

No. You can tell talking to me I am so not into all that. I am like a bit of all my characters. I do have Lady Luxe rebellious traits. In my teenagers I did rebel, not to her extent of course. But in my little ways. I was not aloud to go to concerts and I sneaked out to go. I was not aloud to travel with my friends so I would pretend that I had some university things. I wanted to experience the world, hang out with my friends. I do have Leila’s materialistic streak in me. Sometimes you do get caught up in the last designers sales. I do have a bit of Sugar, the Indian character. I am always struggling with my faith. I always want to become a better person. Nadia, I don’t really relate as much but I do have some of her spiritual aspects as well. And the minute you write a part of you comes out in the characters, the place, the words. You’re there.

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Emirati Writer Ameera Al Hakawai is far from being "Desperate in Dubai"

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"When I joined the Ministry of Education, there were 99% men… I worked so hard to say « Listen to me, I add something. »"

Publié le par Kyradubai

"When I joined the Ministry of Education, there were 99% men… I worked so hard to say « Listen to me, I add something. »"

Jameela Al Muhairi tells about her « journey » working in the Education Department and the fights still ahead. Her passion lead her to become Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau’s Chief and a pioneer in helping private schools flourish in a city which counts 85% of expatriates. INTERVIEW.

How do women help each other as leaders ?

I attended a women’s leaders meeting not long ago and I was impressed as how useful this is and how we can influence and encourage young girls to look at us and become future leaders. We help each other, we talk about how we can encourage the younger Emiratis to be leaders, what obstacles the girls have. We discuss our different approaches.

What are the obstacles the girls still face to succeed?

There was a conference a while ago led by the Dubai Women Establishment in Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed was attending. Women from the GCC shared their challenges and problems they are facing. This is when we realized how lucky we are in this government. This is not « blablabla ». I say that trully from the bottom of my heart. Our government recognizes that we can be Ministers, Members of Parliamant, CEOs, that we can be equal to any men. We can present our ideas and discuss them with the management.

How do you experience it yourself?

When I present things to the Executive Council regarding inspection, fees, early years, different topic in education, I feel I am among them. Sitting there with other women really makes me proud of where we are. Where are my colleagues from the GCC country? Leaders of this country support women in reaching higher levels. For example, I am a board member of Dubai Cares working closely with Minister Reem Al Hashimi. See how lucky we are to represent the UAE when we have delegations from all over the world. We are young women travelling abroad, representing the UAE.

How did you reach that position ?

I am lucky to have a supportive family who allowed me to have a good education despite being a girl and to work in a mixed environment. I did not have to struggle for that. My sister already went to study abroad in the US and in Lebanon in the 60’s and the 70’s.

It was not common at the time ?

No not until the 90’s.

Did you study abroad ?

No, I graduated in Al Ain University. I had the choice to go but I decided to stay because it gave me many opportunities. From an early age, I asked myself « What will I do with my life » ? Nowodays there is no careeer councelling. Students don’t know what they want to do in the future. But in grade 8 or 9 you need to know.

You always knew what you wanted to do ?

I was always passionnate about education. I entered the Ministry of Education as an employee and because I had a good level of English, I focused on private schools. It was my passion. It was a really small sector at the time.

How many private schools were there in the UAE in the 80’s ?

Maybe 200. I looked at regulations, the quality of education, opening new private schools. All my life I worked for the Ministry of Education focusing on private schools. There was a whole floor devoted to the governments’, to support public schools. But I was not interested. I focused on this small department called « Private Schools ».

Why ?

There was the potential, where you could interact with different nationalities, learn from them. I thought I would enhance my education and experience by interacting. I first thought it would be for several years and then I would go to government schools. But every year it was growing. Unbelievable. People moved from all over the world.

The shools also had to adjust. You had to offer more to these new people arriving ?

And the potential investors in this sector. People in this sector where asking how to make a profit.

It is a real business ?

Yes, it never stopped.

How many private schools are there now ?

Dubai has about 150 private schools now. It’s more than doubled in 20 years. Each community established a school supported by the government. Sheikh Rashid Al Makhtoum, the father of Sheikh Mohammed, was looking how to help each community : provide them with a land, give them support from the Board to establish the school adapted to their community. It grew so quickly. In 2006-2007, in one year, ten schools opened in Dubai.

You come from a family dedicated to education ?

My brother (ndlr : Khaled Al Muhairy is the founder and CEO of Evolvence Capital, member of the Board of Governors of Repton) is a businessman but he has this passion. We chat a lot about education and private schools. We need a lot better in Dubai : a school that serves our community, our nationals and give them a good education. If he did a beautiful job at Repton or not, I cannot say because it would be conflict of interest. But it is a sector that is growing.

How did the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) was set up ?

After the Ministry of Education, I still wanted to work for education but what kind of education ? I wanted to add more. There was a good opportunity in 2000 : Sheikh Mohammed developped this concept of free zones for different sectors. Knowledge Village was an opportunity to expand private good quality schools in Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed gave us a huge land. He asked us to bring good investors to build good schools. In 2006, we started putting in place the Dubai Private School Project : we visited schools all over the world, told them to come to Dubai, to set the quality of education we needed here. We went to the UK, Switzerland, to visit the schools we wanted to have in Dubai. We did not insist to have a branch, just a good quality school. There were not enough schools offering International Baccalaureate here. Then Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid assigned me as a member of the Dubai Education Council. But we realized we needed more than the Council, to give advice to private schools and the government. This is where Sheikh Mohammed established KHDA by decree in 2007.

You are now the Head of the Inspection Bureau at KHDA ?

We had an agreement with the Ministry of Education that we would look after all the schools in this process and in all the areas: teachers, private schools, tuition, fees, councelling, everything. The first thing we did was to build a strategy for public and private schools. The mandate covered the early years and higher education. 10 000 people in Dubai contributed to this strategy. It was not just consultants coming from abroad and building it. We have enough experience to know what we need in Dubai, what are our priorities. I focused again on the private sector : our priority was to regulate and make sure that they were providing good quality education. I thought this sector was where I could add value. So I presented it to the government and obtained a decree from Sheikh Hamdan to establish the Bureau : to make sure I had the power to go to any school and ask questions. Then I was assigned Chief of the Department and got the accountability from the government.

You were a pioneer in the field ?

It was a journey. For me. This was something that had never had been done in my country. It did not exist in the UAE. Nobody was controlling what was going on in the schools, to see how children developped, their skills, how schools contributed to the society of Dubai. We developped a framework. The difference with Dubai is that we have a unique multicultural society. It was a challenge. We came up with seven quality indicators that would apply to all curriculums and the public schools. We set scales : outstanding, good, acceptable, unacceptable.

What are the criteria you use? This year it was « UAE national students and special needs » for instance…

When we started we needed a base line. Nobody was ready for it. Inspecting everything in the schools from A to Z, had never been done before. So we needed quality indicators. It was very important. We were not going to invent something from scratch. We needed quality indicators that looked at subjects - maths science, language of the school, Arabic for Arabs and non Arabs, Islamic studies for the Muslims, using the same standards set by the Ministry of Education for public schools and all subject given the same importance) ; development of the children (attitude, behavior, community involvement) ; curriculum (how you teach and how the children learn) ; leadership (Board of Members and their involvement) ; facilites ; ressources ; partnership with the parents. And we graded them. But of course, there is a mechanism to do that. We used people from all over the world to help us inspect certain schools, train them.

How did the schools reacted to the first inspections?

Five years ago, the schools did not know what we expected from them. It came as a shock on the system the first year. There was resistance. They reacted like : « What are these indicators ? I am doing my job. What are you looking at ? It’s all paper… » But at the end of the day, our mandate is to be transparent, to inform any parents : « This is the quality of education the school provides your child with. This is what is happening in the school, on your child’s classroom, so that you understand what we are talking about ». Some schools reactions’ were : « How come you rate me acceptable ? You know how many kids from my school go to Harvard University ? » « Yes, maybe one, but what about the other 2000 ? » These were the questions we had to deal with the first year.

And what was the reaction to the fact that Arabic language was put on the same level as the language of the school ?

Some questionned the emphasis on Arabic language. They asked : « Why you want our children to be able to speak Arabic ? » This is what the government of this country wants : your children to be exposed to this country’s culture and language. To know why I am wearing black. I am not a stranger. We want the children to know why we are establishing this. The schools have to encourage children to know about other. As a human being if you want to be a good citizen, you have to know about each other and respect each other. This is whay we emphasized on the quality indicator number 2 : student development, attitude and behavior, the values of islam. If I am muslim, what do you do for me ? How you respect other’s religion ? What do you know about my culture, and what do I know about yours ? There are 92 nationalities here. How the schools deal with this ? I am British, I know about British culture. I am Muslim, a local, I know about your country more than my country because I attend your school… We wanted to break this.

Are you a mother ?

Not yet but one day Inch Allah !

Would put your kids in the private sector ?

Of course because I see the quality of education.

What are the improvements to be made in the public sector ?

It is so difficult for me to answer that. I inspected them for three years, went to each school in the public sector in Dubai and wrote an individual report and an annual report on the public sector. It is on our website but it is difficult for me to say. When I look at the private sector, it is very interesting because 58% of the locals take their children to private schools and it is growing every year by 5%.

But private schools are expensive?

Locals have the choice to go to the public which is free but they choose the private. It is a big question mark. Why the locals choose the private ?

Aren’t they afraid to loose their Arabic and their culture ?

Yes. KHDA yearly inspection results show that our children are not performing very good in Arabic. They have difficulties. It’s an issue all over Dubai, all over the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed established four initiatives regarding Arabic. Every parent want their child to improve in Arabic. We have a problem with Arabic in the private sector. This is why we emphasized putting the same weight under Arabic, English, Maths or Science. It’s a journey.

But foreigners do not know how long they will stay here and if you impose too much Arabic on them, it’s a problem too?

In private schools, we have Arabic as a first language for locals. They have to use the text books and the standards from the Ministry of Education. Islamic studies are imposed by the Federal government. For expats, we call it foreign language. It is easier. We want the school to be creative on how to teach it. There are not yet there. Some school do it in a very nice way. In some British schools, when blond children with blue eyes see me wearing black and sheila and say « Salamalekoum, my name is … » and try to interact with me, this is beautiful. But my worry is not the second language. I am worried about the first language. The big challenge in our society is to maintain a good level of Arabic. If you loose the language you loose what ? This is so essential in our framework.

How do you influence local families to keep their children in the public sector ?

If the people had faith in the public sector of course, they would have their children attend it. Why waste their money in the private schools ?

How was it for you to work for you here as a woman leader and impose your views on a male dominated environment ?

If you look at the 80’s, it was difficult for women to be in my position, to be a Director. Males dominated everywhere. When you educate a child, you educate girls to be equal to men, if you educate her right. Women in education -I should not say that- are performing better then men. So when the government took this journey of educating the female this is where it started in the UAE. This is how they educated me. I went to university in the 80’s and when I joined the Ministry of Education, there were 99% Emirati and expat men. It was challenging to position myself. I worked so hard to say « Listen to me, I add something. » It was a journey. Because I was passionate and a local and a female, and because the Ministry leaders looked at me as a potential, I was lucky.

What makes the difference ?

Education and the position of the government.

What makes you more « lucky » than other GCC countries ?

Our leaders. In every sector you can see a woman. At a recent government summit, Sheikh Mohammed told 3000 people coming from all the UAE, CEOs, Directors, that men should watch out and work hard otherwise women would take their place. If your leader says something like that … There is four ladies Ministers, it makes you proud. You can be and do whatever you want in this country. I don’t know about the others in GCC but here in the UAE, we are so lucky.

What did girls study 60 years ago ?

Let’s talk about my mother. She was so lucky because her mother insisted that she studied the Coran. This is how she learnt how to read and write. But of course, no maths, no science. In the 60’s, the governemnt of Koweit sent teachers and books to schools here. It started there.

What is the budget for education in the UAE?

Education and Social Affairs are the priority and among the highest budget. Education overall is 9 billion and 10% of it for Dubai ( public sector). There are 24 000 students in the public sector in Dubai and 28 000 students in the private.

For more information and to find your school’s inspection report :


Education landmarks

1954 : the first girls’ school, Al-Zahra, opened in Sharjah.

1958 : the two first girls’ school, Khawla bint Al Azwar in Bud Dubai and Al Khansa in Deira, of opened in Dubai.

1996 : the first girls’ school opened in Abu Dhabi.

The pioneer students :

Maryam Al Khaja

Rafia Abdullah Lootah

Amna Obaid Ghubash

Amal Al-Bassam

Maryam Saleh Al-Osaimi

Before the 50’s :

Education focused on the Holy Qur’an, islamic principles and Arabic language.

1953 :

Official education started funded by the Kowaiti government

1955 :

Egypt granted scholarship to study in Cairo

1971 :

Higher education under the UAE (founded in 1971)

-1976 : UAE University

-1988 : Higher Colleges of Technology

-1998 : Zayed University

2010 :

15% of the Faculty at UAE University are women

51% in private colleges

46% postgraduates

72% in public universities => the highest proportion in the world !

Voir les commentaires

« Le défi est à la maison, pas sur le terrain »

Publié le par Kyradubai

« Le défi est à la maison, pas sur le terrain »

Maria Al Qassim, responsable de programme pour Dubai Cares, la plus grande organisation caritative de Dubaï, croit profondément aux hommes, et à la femme. Pas d’angélisme mais un profond idéalisme chez cette jeune émirienne qui espère familiariser ses pairs à l’engagement des femmes locales dans l’humanitaire. INTERVIEW.

NB: In english at the bottom

Quelle est la mission de Dubai Cares et comment y êtes-vous entrée?

Dubai Cares a été lancé en septembre 2007. J’ai eu de la chance d’être parmi les membres de l’équipe fondatrice. Je sortais tout juste de l’université et ils m’ont littéralement engagée deux semaines plus tard ! J’ai un diplôme de marketing de Dubai Unversity. J’ai eu beaucoup de chance d’avoir trouvé un projet aussi inspirant dans lequel m’investir. Ils voulaient des jeunes filles émiriennes et j’ai eu la chance d’être la seconde personne engagée. J’avais 22 ans. C’était une expérience merveilleuse. Très spirituelle. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Makhtoum voulait créer une grande banque pour la philanthropie comme il l’a fait pour les autres industries. Dubai Cares était censée être la contribution humanitaire de Dubaï. Parce qu’il croit à l’éducation et comment l’éducation contribue à casser le cycle de pauvreté. Cela aurait pu se faire dans n’importe quel domaine, mais il a choisi l’éducation car il y croit.

Pourquoi Dubai Cares est quelque chose d’important pour Sheikh Mohammed ?

C’était peu de temps après que soient annoncés les objectifs du Millenium. C’était donc sa contribution au problème majeur et ignoré de l’éducation dans les pays du Sud, surtout l’école primaire. Et la contribution de Dubaï au développement : comment aborder MDG 2, 3, ou 8 (Millenium Development Goals) qu’il s’agisse de la mise à disposition d’écoles primaires dans les pays en voie de développement, de l’égalité des sexes, de l’autonomie des femmes grâce à l’éducation.

Quelles valeurs souhaitez-vous véhiculer ?

L’une des valeurs dans laquelle nous croyons fermement est la dignité. Les gens devraient avoir l’opportunité de choisir la vie qu’ils désirent et non qu’elle leur soit dictée par les circonstances. La façon la plus forte d’atteindre ce but est l’éducation. Si vous donnez à quelqu’un une chose que personne ne peut leur reprendre, comme l’éducation, c’est une opportunité et une nouvelle chance. La confiance en soi, la dignité, l’autonomisation sont des valeurs auxquelles nous croyons fort. Nous ne croyons pas aux différences de principes, de religion ou d’ethnicité. Dubai Cares n’est affilié à aucune religion ou groupe particulier. Nous croyons à l’humanité et au fait que nous devrions tous nous aider les uns les autres, peu importe toutes ces discriminations.

Et vos valeurs personnelles?

La raison pour laquelle j’ai survécu si longtemps ici c’est la synergie entre mes valeurs personnelles et Dubai Cares. J’ai foi dans l’humanité et non dans les différences de couleurs de peau, d’ethnies, de religions. Je crois en les gens et leur bonté. C’est ce que j’ai en commun avec Dubai Cares. Je crois à la responsabilisation et plus particulièrement à l’habilitation des femmes. Et cette organisation me donne l’opportunité de faire évoluer les choses dans un domaine auquel je crois fermement. Je crois vraiment aux femmes. Je crois que si vous donnez à une femme la possibilité de changer le monde, elle peut vous surprendre et y arriver.

Même plus que les hommes ?

Plus que les hommes, si vous croyez en elles.

Vous êtes donc passionnée par votre travail ?

Je le suis.

Est-ce important pour une femme de travailler, d’être impliquée professionnellement ?

En définitive, c’est son choix. Mais elle devrait pouvoir recevoir l’éducation nécessaire, qu’elle décide d’être une mère, une enseignante, une professionnelle. C’est essentiel. Je crois aux valeurs de l’éducation pour les femmes en général.

Qu’est ce que ce travail vous a apporté ?

Il m’a aidé à me comprendre. J’ai eu beaucoup de chance et c’est ce que mon chef me dit : Dubai Cares vous donne l’opportunité de vous découvrir. Cela a été cinq années d’auto-découverte non stop ! J’ai travaillé deux ans et demi puis j’ai pu faire un masters en développement à Londres car je veux en savoir sur le sujet : son histoire afin de contribuer de la façon la plus efficace.

C’était la première fois que vous alliez à l’étranger ?


Cela a dû être une expérience incroyable ?

Cela m’a ouvert les yeux. J’ai rencontré des gens brillants qui partageaient la même passion, cette envie de changer le monde. C’était très inspirant. Que vous soyez sur le terrain à rencontrer les mères, les enfants, les enseignants, les membres des communautés ou que vous soyez assis dans un auditorium à écouter un prof ou à boire un café avec vos pairs, ce sont toujours des opportunités, des contacts humains que vous n’auriez pas ailleurs.

En vous laissant étudier à l’étranger, vos parents vous ont donné une vraie opportunité ?

Ce n’a pas été un problème. Ça l’est de moins en moins aux Emirats. J’ai fait un masters à l’étranger tout comme ma sœur. Nous ne l’avons pas fait avant parce qu’ils pensaient que nous étions trop jeunes. Cela fait partie de ma carrière et ils le comprennent.

Votre logo est très accrocheur, qu’est-il censé dire ?

Ce sont cinq mains de couleurs différentes montrant que Dubaï rayonne sur les cinq continents. Les couleurs vives symbolisent le bonheur et comment l’éducation devrait améliorer le bien-être des enfants du monde entier.

Quelle est votre vision ?

Nous croyons que l’éducation peut briser le cercle vicieux de la pauvreté.

Où en est l’accès à l’éducation aux E.A.U ?

Nous n’avons pas de programme ici mais nous avons de nombreuses activités pour sensibiliser la population à l’éducation, à la santé et à la nutrition. Nous essayons aussi de motiver les jeunes, les enfants et la communauté au bénévolat. Jusque là nous avons eu beaucoup de succès. Nous avons de nombreuses campagnes. En 2009, nous avons lancé WASH: l’eau et les conditions d’hygiène dans les écoles. Nous essayons de sensibiliser les gens aux problèmes rencontrés par les enfants des pays en voie de développement. Par exemple, qu’un enfant ne peut aller à l’école car il doit aller chercher de l‘eau pour sa famille et faire six kilomètres pour y arriver. Lorsqu’il sera de retour, l’école sera finie. Nous leur faisons prendre conscience et réaliser ce qu’on peut faire, comme construire un puits dans l’école. Nous avons aussi eu une campagne de santé et nutrition à l’école : offrir des repas chauds ou encourager les familles à envoyer leurs enfants à l’école plutôt que travailler dans les champs. Toutes ces choses associées à l‘école qui peuvent avoir un impact sur l’inscription et l’apprentissage de l’enfant.

Et les bénévoles ici ?

Nous venons de faire une campagne à ce sujet. « La marche pour l’éducation » a lieu chaque année. C’est une façon de montrer aux communautés ce que cela représente pour un enfante de marcher pour aller au point d’eau le plus proche. 200 bénévoles nous ont aidés à organiser cet événement. Plus de 5000 adultes ont participé à la marche. C’est une magnifique façon d’expliquer les choses et de leur faire prendre conscience des privilèges qu’ils ont et que les enfants de ces pays n’ont pas.

Qu’est ce qui fait la différence à Dubaï ? Y a-t-il plus donateurs ? Plus de possibilités ?

La chose la plus importante à Dubaï, ce ne sont pas les tours, les immeubles ou les malls, mais les communautés si diverses. C’est quelque chose de grande valeur pour Dubai Cares. Nous avons des gens de partout dans le monde, d’horizons différents. Toutes ces communautés contribuent à leur façon. Elles reflètent l’idée de Dubai Cares. Lorsque nous disons que nous ne croyons pas aux différences de nationalités ou de religions, voilà pourquoi nous parvenons à attirer autant de gens de communautés différentes.

Quel est votre budget ?

Nous travaillons dans plus de 28 pays. Je n’ai pas le budget exact en tête mais notre plus gros programme en Afrique, le Mali, coûte environ 16 millions de dollars. C’est le coût moyen de nos programmes.

D’où viennent les fonds ?

De la communauté. En 2007, pour notre campagne de fonds, nous avons réussi à lever près d’un milliard de dollars. Nous avons des donateurs avec de gros moyens mais aussi des personnes de la classe moyenne.

Surtout des locaux ?

Non tout le monde. Certains de nos plus gros donateurs ne sont pas locaux. Sunny Varkey, l’homme d’affaire indien, est notre plus gros donateur. Nous ne répertorions pas les nationalités de nos donateurs mais c’est un public très large.

Pour quels programmes travaillez-vous ?

En Ethiopie, Bosnie Herzégovine, Lesotho, Inde, Mali.

Vous voyagez beaucoup ?


Vous êtes célibataire ?

Non, en fait je suis enceinte ! Je vais avoir un petit garçon. J’ai un peu moins voyagé les six derniers mois. Mais dès que j’aurais mon bébé je vais recommencer à voyager. Une grande partie de mon travail est d’aller sur le terrain et de parler aux gens, m’assurer que leurs besoins sont satisfaits, que nos programmes sont assurés comme ils le doivent, les fonds utilisés sciemment.

Quelles scènes vous ont particulièrement émues sur le terrain ?

Il y en a beaucoup. Au Bangladesh, les inondations sont un énorme problème. Les enfants ne peuvent plus aller à l’école car ils doivent carrément nager pour s’y rendre ! C’est important d’aller sur le terrain, car vous ne lisez pas ce genre de choses dans les rapports. Nous avons donc acheté un bateau pour amener les enfants à l’école sans qu’ils aient besoin de nager en eaux profondes. Egalement, un programme d’école informelle dans une région très reculée du Bangladesh. Cela fait chaud au cœur de voir comment chacun essaie d’aider. Nous essayons d’impliquer un maximum de gens de la communauté : les parents, le chef de la communauté, afin que tout le monde s’intéresse au programme. Je me souviens de cet endroit mis à disposition par un villageois et du professeur bénévole qui n’avait pas 20 ans. Je n’ai jamais vu quelqu’un enseigner avec tant d’enthousiasme. Il était si engageant. Les élèves le regardaient les yeux écarquillés alors qu’il leur parlait de la pyramide alimentaire et des vitamines. Il y avait tant d’excitation, la salle étai si petite alors il y avait des enfants partout, aux fenêtres pour essayer de suivre. C’était la plus belle des choses à voir.

Quelles qualités sont nécessaires pour travailler dans l’humanitaire ?

Il faut être très flexible et ouvert aux différentes cultures, aux gens, au monde. Il faut être préparer à voir des situations tragiques. Ce n’est pas un boulot attirant. Il y a beaucoup de déplacements. Au début, j’ai pensé que j’aurais de la peine à supporter. C’est dur d’éprouver de la compassion pour eux car ils n’en ont pas pour eux-mêmes. La dignité qu’ils ont… Ils sourient tout le temps. Ils pensent qu’ils ont tout.

Que souhaitez-vous à la prochaine génération de filles des E.A.U ?

Je leur souhaite de vivre de telles rencontres. Ce n’est pas très courant pour les gens des Emirats d’aller dans les pays en voie de développement. C’est un problème global. Les gens sont exposés à cela par la télé ou internet mais n’y vont pas, n’en font pas l’expérience. Je pense que c’est quelque chose que les gens devraient faire au moins une fois dans leur vie. C’est quelque chose que j’ai hâte de partager avec mon enfant. Je voudrais qu’il y aille et aie cette expérience.

Pour réaliser la chance qu’il a ?

Oui, les privilèges que nous avons.

Comment est-ce d’être à ce poste de Program Officer, étant une femme locale ?

Je pense vraiment que lorsque vous arrivez dans ce domaine, les nationalités cessent d’exister. C’est le même constat pour tout le monde. Le seul challenge que les femmes ont à relever ici, c’est obtenir le soutien de leur famille. Le défi se trouve à la maison, pas sur le terrain. Trouver quelqu’un de votre entourage qui vous soutienne car ce domaine n’est pas facile. On peut comprendre qu’ils se fassent du souci que vous partiez là bas. Ils entendent des choses sur les pays en voie de développement qui les bousculent. C’est compréhensible. Mais si vous avez ce soutien, c’est tellement plus facile pour vous de vous y rendre et de faire votre travail. Ils comprennent de mieux en mieux pourquoi on le fait. Ils disent souvent : « Nous savons qu’il y a des besoins et que quelqu’un doit y aller mais pourquoi toi ? ». Mais finalement ils comprennent que si tu n’y vas pas, beaucoup d’autres ne serons pas encouragés à y aller. En faisant cela, j’espère vraiment que plus de gens vont se familiariser à l’idée de femmes émiriennes dans ce genre de travail. Et peu à peu, cela change.

Avez-vous dû vous battre pour atteindre ce poste ?

D’une façon subtile. J’ai poussé petit à petit pour obtenir ce que je voulais. C’est comme cela que ça a marché. Je suis très reconnaissante de ce que j’ai.


« The real challenge is at home, not on the field »

Maria Al Qassim, Program Officer at Dubai Cares, the most important humanitarian organization of Dubaï, truely believes in men, but also women. This young Emirati, idealistic in the true sense, hopes her experience will help promote the involvement of her peers in the humanitarian field. INTERVIEW.

What is the mission of Dubai Care and how did you get involved ?

Dubai Cares was launched in September 2007. I was lucky to be one of the founding team members. Fresh out of college. They literally hired me two weeks after I graduated from Dubai Unversity in marketing. And I thought I was so lucky to have found something so inspiring to be part of. I was very lucky to be the second employee to be hired. I was 22. It was a wonderful experience. A very spiritual one. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Makhtoum wanted to create a big bank in philantropy like he did in any other industries. So Dubai Cares was supposed to be Dubai’s contribution to the world to help. Because he believes in education and education contributes to break the cycle of poverty. It could have been any other area but he chose education because he believes in it.

Why is Dubai Cares important for Sheikh Mohammed ?

It was shorly after the Millenium goals were anounced so it was his contribution to the very important and ignored problem of education in the Southern world, especially primary education. It was also Dubai’s contribution to the millenium development cause, how can we tackle MDG 2, 3, and 8 (Millenium Development Goals) whether it is the provision of primary education to children in developing countries, or the gender equality, or women empowerment with education.

What are the values Dubai Cares wish to convey ?

One of the values we really believe in is dignity and that people should have opportunities to choose the life they want for them and not having it dictated upon them by circumstances. The strongest way to do that, is through education. If you empower someone by giving them that something nobody can take away from them which is education, you give them this big opprtunity that nobody can take away from them. Giving them a new stake of life. Self confidence, dignity and empowerment are values we strongly believe in in Dubai Cares. We don’t believe in differences between people, creed or religion or ethnicity… Dubai Cares is not affliliated with any religion or particular group. We believe in humanity and that everybody should be helping each other regardless of all these discriminations.

And your values ?

I think the reason I survived in Dubai Cares for so long is because there’s a lot of synergies between my own personal values and Dubai Cares. I believe in humanity and not in differences between skin colors, ethnicities, religions. I believe in people and the goodness in people. I believe in empowerment and especially women empowerment. Dubai Cares gives me this opportunity to make changes within that segment in which I strongly believe in.

I really believe in women and I believe if you give women that opportunity to change the world, she can surprise you by doing that.

Even more than men ?

Even more than men if you believe in her.

So you are very passionate about your job ?

I am.

Is it important for women to work, to be professionally involved ?

Ultimately for a woman to be professionnally involved is a choice of hers. But what should not be a choice is to have an education, whether she chooses to be a mother or a teacher or a professional woman, then education is essential. I believe in the values of education for women in general.

What did this job brought you ?

This job helped me understand myself. I was very lucky and this is what my boss always tells me: Dubai Cares gives you the opportunity to discover yourself. It has been five years of non stop self discovery. I worked the first two and a half years. I then went to do a masters degree in development because I wanted to learn more about it : its history, how I could contribute better. I went away for a year to London.

Was it the first time you went abroad ?


That must have been an amazing experience ?

It was very eye opening. I met brilliant people. We all shared the same passion, this drive to change the world to the better. It was very inspiring. Whether your in the field meeting with the children, the mothers, the teachers, the community members, or sitting in a lecture hall accross a professor who is lecturing or sitting in a coffee shop with your peers discussing, there is always opportunities and human contact that you cannot get anywhere else.

So your parents gave you a real opportunity by letting you study alone abroad ?

That was not an issue. It is becoming less and less of an issue in the UAE. I went to get my masters degree abroad and so did my sister. I think the reason we did not go before was that they thought we were too young. It was part of my career and they understood it.

I really like Dubai Cares’ logo, what does it say ?

These are five hands with different colors basically saying Dubai Cares outreaches the five continents. The colors are cheerfull, symbolizing happiness and ow education should provide well being of children all over the world.

What is Dubai Cares’ vision ?

We believe that through education we can break the cycle of poverty.

How is it here in the UAE regarding access to education ?

We do not have programs here but we have a lot of activities to increase the awareness of the population particularly in education, health and nutrition. We also try to drill the volunteer drive within the youth, the children and the community. So far we have been very successful with that. We have many campaigns. In 2009, we had the WASH: water and sanitation hygiene in school. How do we promote health for children in developing countrie. We make people aware of issues that the children in developing countries face. For instance, a child cannot go to school because he needs to fetch water for his family and that is six kilometers away and by the time he comes back school is over. So we just make them aware of these issues and help them understand what we can do. Like building a well in the schools. We also had a school health and nutrition campaign about how do we provide children with hot meals at school and encourage the families to send their kids in class instead of working in the field. It’s all these things related to school that can affect a child’s inrolment or learnings in the school. That’s what we do.

What about the volunteers here ?

We just had a volunteering drive. « The Walf for education » takes place every year. To give the community in the UAE an idea of how long a child has to walk in order to go to the nearest drinking point. To help organize this event we had over 200 volunteers. And we had more than 5000 adults. It is a beautiful way to explain things to children here and make them aware of the privileges they have and that other kids in developing countries don’t.

What makes a difference in Dubai, there are more donors than elsewhere, more possibilities ?

The most important thing about Dubai is not the towers or the buildings or the shopping malls, the strenght of Dubai is its community. Very diverse. This is something that helps Dubai Cares. We have people from all over the world with different backgrounds and it helps us to have a wider presence among the community of Dubai. They all contribute in different ways. They really reflect what Dubai Cares is about. When we say we don’t believe in nationalies or religions, this is what it is about and that’s why we are able to attract so many people from the different communities.

What is the budget you are dealing with ?

We work in over 28 countries. I don’t have an exact budget in mind but our biggest program in Africa, which is Mali, costs about 16 million dollars. That’s on average what our program cost. We have smaller and bigger ones but this is an average.

Where the funds come from ?

The community. We were able to raise a significant amount in 2007 for our first fundraising drive which was close to a billion dollars. We have donors with big means but also average person of the community.

Donors are mainly locals?

No, everybody. Some of our biggest donors are not locals. Sunny Varkey, the Indian businessman for instance, is one our biggest donor. We don’t keep track of the nationalites of our donors but it is a very wide audience.

Can you tell me about the programs you work for ?

Ethiopia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Lesotho, India, Mali.

You get to travel a lot ?


Are you single ?

No actually I am pregnant and will have a baby boy soon ! I have travelled a bit less in the past six months. I will travel as soon as I have my baby. A very important part of the job is go to the field and speak to people, make sure their needs ar meant and that our program is being delivered the way we want it to be, people donations are being used the way they are supposed to.

Tell me a story that particularly moved you in the field ?

There are many. In Bangladesh, flooding is a huge issue. The kids can’t go to school because they literally have to swim to get there. This is why it is important to be in the field because you don’t get to hear about these stories from reports. So we purchased a boat that can get the kids to school safely without having to swim in the deep water. Also a program of an informal school in a very remote area in Bangladesh. It is very heartwarming to see how everybody comes to help with this. We try to involve as many communiy members as possible including parents, the head of the community, so everybody gets interested in the program. The classroom was donated by one of the village member and the teacher was also a volunteer, less then 20 years old. I never saw someone teach with so much enthousiasm. He was so ingaging. The students were looking at him with wide eyes. He was teaching them about nutrition, vitamins and the food pyramid. There was so much excitment form the kids and the classroom was small you would see little children stuck in the window trying to look as well. It was the most beautiful thing.

What qualities are needed to work in the humanitarian field ?

You have to be very flexible and open to different cultures, to people, to the world. You need to be prepared for tragic stuations it’s not a fancy job, a lot of travelling. When I came to this job, I thought it would be very difficult for me to handle. It is difficult to feel sympathy because they dont feel sympathy for themselves. The amount of dignity, they are always smiling. They think that they have everything.

What do you wish for the next generation of girls in the UAE ?

I wish people experience these encounters. It is not very common for people from the UAE to visit developing countries. I think it’s a global problem. People are exposed to these things through tv or internet but to actually go there and experience it... I think it is something people should at least do once in their life. It is something I look forward to do with my child. I would want him to go and experience this.

To realize the luck he has ?

Yes. The privileges we have.

How is it to work in your job being an Emirati woman ?

I really think that when you enter this field, nationality ceases to exist and it is the same experience for me, for you for any person of any natonality who go there. The only challenge women face here is getting the support from their families. The real challenge is at home and not on the field. Finding someone who will supprt you in this field, because it is not an easy one. You can understand that they can be worried about you going there. They hear about things from devloping countries they are not comfortable with. It’s understandable but if you get that support it is so much easier for you to go there and do your job. Eventually they start to understand more and more why you do this. The argument is « We know there are need sand someone has to do it, but what does it have to be you ? » So eventually they come to understand that if I don’t do it then many others will not be encouraged. Through me doing this, I really hope that more people will get used to that idea of Emirati women doing that kind of work. And slowly it happens.

So you had to fight to be in your posiiton ?

In a very subtle way. Slowly. I pushed little by little to get what I wanted that’s how it worked. I am very grateful for what I have.


Vision : help a million children have access to education in Developing countries

Raised in 2007 : 1,7 billion dirhams

Action : 28 countries, 7 millions children

Fields of programmes :

Building and renovating schools

Supplying school materials

Teacher training and development

Health and nutrition projects

Curriculum development

Plus :

Emergency response

Equal gender and ethic representation in schooling

Locally : volunteer, awareness and fund-raising initiatives

For more info and to donate :


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« Being a role model is very important to me »

Publié le par Kyradubai

« Being a role model is very important to me »

UAE film director and producer of her own company D-Seven, Nayla Al Khaja talks about her last film for Soul of Dubai and the ups and downs of her daring career in the local film industry. She says if there isn’t complete freedom yet, it is already the most progressive one of the Middle East. INTERVIEW.

Is it because of the lack of producers here that you needed to start your own production company ?

Yes. I love business and the creative world as well, so I like to combine both. It just came as a very natural thing to me to start my own company. I used to freelance under a proper licence from the Economic Department in Dubai at 21. I have always had that entrepreneur side and have always been raising money for artistic initiatives. So I knew I had a nack for closing deals, negociations etc.

You started in radio ?

My first job was a Radio Jockey. I also worked in the marketing department so I was able to get two sponsors for my show. Then, the marketing department wanted me! But I liked the entertainment si I did both. I did that for one year because I had to travel to Toronto. I had to repeat university from scratch because I never had the opportunity to study overseas because of my gender. I studied here initiatially.

Because of your gender ? Can you explain ?

Because my parents were against me travelling on my own without my husband or an uncle… I studied at Women’s College because it was either that or home. After that, I had a gap here before going to Toronto. And they were still not happy that I travelled, so I got married.

So you got married to study abroad?

Correct. After six days of dropping me, my « husband » and I had a little bit of arguing over his role, providing me with an education.

So you divorced basically ?

Yes. We are still good friends.

What is the relationship with your parents since you started your career on an argument ?

I was the first woman in the field back then. It’s almost like the first woman driving a car in the 60’s : everybody would look at you. So in my field, my parents did not know what to make of it. They were worried : filmmaking can be dark, an underground side, lots of parties. They thought I was going on the dark side…

You were under the spotlights as well ?

Exactly. It means I am exposed all the times. If I do something naughty, I’ll be exposed. Here it is very tribal so it’s always about family reputation. So they have a lot of fears.

You also deal with controversial subjects in your films ?

My first film was just a documentary called Unveiling Dubai. Not controversial, just a student film. I wanted to show Dubai through the eyes of another film maker and myself. So it was ok. The government liked it and it opened a lot of doors for me for what I really wanted to do. My second project, Arabana, was about pedophilia, child abuse. So I shot that and it was my first narrative film on 35 mm. A really nice experience. And to work with actors…

Why did you want to tackle such a taboo issue ?

Because it was based on my own story. When I was very young I was in a situation where I was not abused but I came very close to it and I remember the feeling of it, the fear. I wanted to capture that emotion. After I did the film, we showed it in many organisations especially women’s and they started talking about their own personal experiences as kids. Some started crying because they had never opened up before. So I think films can do that sometimes.

It gets a lot of courage to tell such an intimate story publicly ?

It really helped. Making the film made me feel better. I overcome my fear from when I was 7. Some women talked about their problems. That was nice. The film was amazing. Not the film itself but what it did : money was raised for the actress’ education. She could not afford it. I am a big actor in women’s education. I really believe in it, big time. Because I was also denied it. People should not be doing that. People should not be pushed in a situation where they have to marry someone to get education. It’s wrong.

Is pedophilia and child abuse a common thing here ?

No it is a global issue. I made research and I found out that the architecture of a house is an important factor. If a house is big, even if you are good at monitoring your kids, if people work around, the chances can be very high. In this film that’s what happened. The girl lives in a huge villa where the backyard is massive. It makes it difficult for the parents to see what’s happening.

You dealt with censorship ? How does it work here ?

You need to give your scripts to the Media Council. From ten years to today things have really improved in terms of approval. It is more flexible, less strict. I would not have been able to shoot things that I show now. That’s a progress which is directly linked to lots of film festivals being shown in the Middle East. A lot of these film festivals are not censored so that has helped film awareness in the country and respecting the artist’s voice. Yes we don’t have a complete freedom but for the Middle East I think we are the most progressive.

What was the reaction of the public and the people around you to the film?

I received some very negative comments but it’s okay because people have different opinions. Some from my own community saying that I should get out forever. Because as a filmmaker, I should not be doing this. But this is only 10, even less, 5% of the people. The big majority, especially men, which is surprising, are very supportive. Most supports come from guies. My fellow film makers are men. And my number one support is my brother. He really pushes me like crazy.

What is your family background ?

Both my parents are entrepreneurs. My mom ran a school but she sold it and is now in property business. My father won best company of the year in the media field. He is an agent for hospital beds.

You received an waward for best entrepreneur as well. Do you walk in the footprints of your father ?

I received awards, my company received awards, which is nice because it’s always team work in film. So I take pride in having a really good team.

Do you write the scenarios ?

The shorts yes, but in documentary treatment and features I take a writer.

Do you have the ambition of educating people, raising awareness on certain subjects ?

It is extremely key. I have an agenda this year where I am going to visit schools. I was at three different schools last month and taught children how to find their voice through film or any art medium, music, dance, painting. Just to give them self confidence during training and workshops. It is part of my giving back to communities. For me the award is good but the best thing ever is when I get an email from a 16 year old girl telling me she wants to follow my steps, using me as an example for her family. Voilà, I did my job. It is going back to the next generation. Being a role model is very important for me. Show myself in a good light because I want people to be influenced.

I saw pictures of you with George Clooney, Sharon Stone etc… How do stay down to earth ?

It’s the love for people, humanity and love for the earth. At the end of the day, we will all be buried underground and life is too short to be arrogant. You get more out of life when you’re connected to people. And as an artist your emotions are hightened to the delicate fabrics of life. Am I under a mud hut in Africa today, or in a palace tomorrow, it is very exciting and you get to really experience life because you appreciate the small details which create the big picture. You cannot spread love if you’re arrogant. It goes against the whole concept of togetherness.

Regarding fundings, does the government help local productions ?

I think that they are changing that now. I heard that the agenda is to put the money here. The film I am shooting in two weeks is commissioned by Dubai Culture which is great. It is important because it will create an economy, support for the artists. If we make ten films and one gets into Cannes or one of the big festivals, these film makers are ambassadors for the country. I go to all of these film festivals and there is never a film from my country.

Films can tell the story of the country in a unique way, leaving a print in a very oral tradition ?

Yes, the film is the best medium. You capture, it’s mobile, it travels the world, it stays, you can make hundreds of copies. The revolution of film has made it easier for the people to grasp their own stories. And now it’s even better because if you don’t get distributed through the traditional channels, there are on line alternatives.

What is your current project about ?

It’s part of a theme called Soul of Dubai. Ali Mustafa (City of Life), another director and I, each of us have a different story. Mine is called the Neighbour. I wrote it and proposed it. We all shot a 15 minutes film. Mine is about a new expat girl in Dubai who interacts with her local neighbour who is an old woman. The dialogue is funny because the woman who speaks english cannot speak arabic and the woman who speaks arabic cannot speak english and the only one who translates is a child and it’s always wrong.

Who do look up to as far as directing goes ?

I like Lars Von Trier. I like dark films. I love Kubrik : he’s my number one heroe. From the more commercial cinema, I also like Clint Eastwood. He’s a one man package : directs, produces. As women I really like Mira Neer and Deepa Metha.

What challenges women still have to fight here ?

Access to education overseas. There is nothing against it in the law but it’s a family to family decision. Because of their gender, a lot of girls are deprived from an international education. We do have schools but it’s a different world to do it elsewhere. The second one would be timings. In my field you work very late and lots of families dont’ let girls go out later than 10pm. It can disrupt your life style of working. Single women here still live with their parents even if they are old ! Even guies actually which is good. At least, it’s equal !

Tell us about Once, your film tackling the issue of Emirati women dating in secret ?

Dating is against the concept of our tradition. When women reach a certain age, they are obviously attracted to the other sex because there is a lot of coexistence of gender on the country. It is not segregated anymore, so it’s very tempting to have a partner. You have emotions. You see your expat girlfriends doing it and you want to do the same. So what’s happening is that you find other ways of communicating with the other gender : through the telephone. And it leads to a date. So that’s the film : the journey of a gilr going on a date. For me it’s like a horror movie. Because if I had to go on a date, I would have to do so much lying that’s it‘s exhausting. You have to cover your face, lie to your parents, get in a taxi, get in a mall, get picked by a guy, and you just spoke on the phone so you don’t even know if he’s going to be reliable. It’s dangerous and if something happens, you cannot tell your parents. IIt is very dangerous. So the films says « Be careful ». I refuse to date secretely. I date publicly so it’s fine.

What were the reactions to the movie ?

Because it has an open ending, people took two different perspectives. One was « Great you will scare girls from doing it ». The other was « You are encouraging them ». For me it wasn’t either or, it was just depicting what it is like. I wanted to document what happens. There’s a chance that it could have been very dangerous for the girl and for different reasons : if she gets caught by the family, if the boyfriends turns out to be a really horrible person and molests her… So there are a lot of dangers to it.


Nayla is the founder and Director of D-SEVEN Motion Pictures and UAE's first female film Producer/Director. Her aim is to produce a slate of feature films in the Middle East.

Nayla has produced and directed four films namely: Unveiling Dubai (2004), Arabana (2006), Once (2009) and Malal (2010).

Her accolades include: ‘Best Emirati Filmmaker’ at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2007, ‘Emirates Woman of the Year’ in 2005, and ‘The Youngest Entrepreneur’ of the year in 2005 at the Global Businesswomen & Leader’s Summit Awards. She has served as an official juror in the feature film program headed by Abbas Kiarostami at the Middle East Film Festival in 2009 and was a jury member at the 2010 International Emmy Awards. Moreover, Nayla is currently a proud ambassador of CANON Middle East, a global leader in digital imaging products. She was announced among the top 50 most powerful personalities in Arab cinema (source: Variety Arabia, 13 Dec 2011)

« Being a role model is very important to me »
« Being a role model is very important to me »

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« Sudden wealth has eroded some of our values »

Publié le par Kyradubai

« Sudden wealth has eroded some of our values »

Sensitive to the lack of books for young Arabic people in their motehr tongue, Noura Al Noman published her first science-fiction novel in Arabic becoming a pionneer in her field. But she is also the Chief Executive of the Executive office of Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi, the wife of the Ruler of Sharjah. She talks about their involvement in family and social issues. INTERVIEW.

Describe your role as Director General of Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi’s Executive Office and her « Live and let live » philosophy?

I assist Her Highness in her role as Chairperson for the Supreme Council for Family Affairs in all the projects she initiates and runs according to her vision. I started in 2002 and my role has grown with the projects. In 1982, Her Highness noticed that the ladies needed a safe place with privacy to do the things they are interested in. She started the Sharjah Ladies’ Club which used to be called Al Muntazah Center. From the Club, a lot of her organizations were born. They are involved in children, youth, women, social and cultural issues and philantropy. The Supreme Council, born from the Club, has become the umbrella organization for all these actions. The Government of Sharjah and His Highness, our Ruler, Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi, finance them. Whatever Her Highness is interested in, grows into an initiative and into centers and organisations.

In other words her dreams become real. Can you describe some of her involvements with the youth, as she is very concerned with education ?

She has developped programms for children : after school extra curriculum activities in art, science, and lately, robotics. And after twelve, the kids can then join youth centers for boys and girls. One of the initiative Her Highness is most proud of is the Children’s Parliament. It has existed for twelve years now. The children hold elections and the winners become members of Parliament. Every year they work on a theme. They ask to speak to people in power and invite them to answer their questions about issues that impact their lives, like in a real Parliament. Last year, nutrition in schools was on their agenda and they called the Ministers of Education and Health to debate the matter. At the end, they came up with recommendations. It is a very good experience for children in the process of democracy. They realize the changes and what is happening around them. When they grow up, they can join youth centers which also has a parliement. I met a young man, a graduate from the Children Center of Sharjah, who ended up launching the « Flag Over Every House » initiative during National Day. This is an example of who they become. He was very proud of it.

Supporting the family unit is one of Sheikha Jawaher’s main concern. What are the issues regarding family affairs and the new challenges brought by modern society ?

Her Highness is the Head of the Family Development Center. They offer family councelling but they also raise awareness when it comes to family issues. Every year around 3000 people come to them and ask for help whether it is psychological or advice. A lot of them are concerned about divorces and drug abuses (mostly men). We have a very high rate of divorce in the UAE (read appendix). It has to do with the fact that unfortunately couples do not understand the responsibilties of marriage. So the Center provides workshops for people who are about to get married or just got married. They discuss what it means to get married in terms of responsibility and partnership : how to treat each other. Here people marry young and the parents haven’t really prepared them for married life.

Sheikha Jawaher says she observes daily the effects of modern world on her people. What is her concern ?

As a country we are only 41 years old and 40 years ago it was so different. What countries have experienced in hundred years, we did in only 20. So there is a huge gap between the old and the new generation and this has caused a lot of problems. People are concerned with materials things, brands and fame, more than teaching their children the values of the UAE.

What were the core values of the UAE which you are trying to bring to life ?

The family used to be the center of everything. There is also philantropy, civil service, serving the community and concerns for others. Because of our climate, the seasons in the UAE, men would travel abroad to provide for their families, or go for months at sea pearl diving. The rest of the family had to take care of each other. But with oil, sudden wealth, unfortunately it has eroded some of our values.

How was Sharjah in the old days, when you were a little girl ?

My two houses –meaning the family of my mother and my father- are from Sharjah. We used to live here. Sharjah was set on a stretch of sand in this area where all the houses were built. People only moved a bit further inland during the summer for freshness.

The UAE were poor and Koweit used to build our schools. They sent teachers, mosty Palestinians and Egyptians, and books, and even breakfasts ! We appreciate what Koweit has done for us. All this has changed. Our kids no longer appreciate how deprived their parents were and how lucky they are. That’s also a reason why there are so many divorces.

What are Sheikha Jawaher’s values ? She seems to be a very human oriented person.

Her values go towards humanity and human dignity. The core values of our office is respect in human dignity. She is that way because of her upbringing. Yes, she is Sheikha and wife of the Ruler, but before oil and the creation of the Union, she remembers how we were all raised, believeing in our duties towards others. She is also well read and constantly watching the news, concerned with what happens to others around the world. We just came back from Geneva where she was briefed by UNHCR on a neonatal clinic she helped finance in Somalia. And she is also bilingual which broadens horizons. Tradition is not only clothing or symbols of tradition, but what our people stood for and this is not promoted enough even in our education system.

Does that reflects on her humanitarian and social choices ?

Her Highnesses organizations include the Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services. It is more than 33 years old. It is a Center for disabled with an early intervention center, an autism center and its own special sports club. The pink Caravan is also her initiative (campaign for breast cancer awareness).

Tradition has nothing to do with conservatism. What would you call conservatism ?

I will give you two examples. The first one in sports. People love to see men in sports but they think that girls should not be doing it. The SLC has ten branches all over Sharjah all serving the purposes of their area. But most importantly they have sports teams. Her Highness met a young girl in one of these centers wearing sports clothes. She asked her if she was playing in a team. She said her parents wouldn’t let her. Her Highness urged them to for years… This does not happen anymore. The second one is cancer. Eleven years ago people wouldn’t even pronounce the word. They said « that disease », out of fear of catching it but mainly out of ignorance. Because of her Highness campaign « The Friends of Cancer Patients » launched in 1999, it has become a common thing to talk about it, to do self examination and go for check ups.

Which fields are still difficult to adress ?

The way priorities have changed. Everything is about brands, shopping mall mentality, 15 minutes of fame. But it does not mean we will not change it. Like the Girls Guide. It’s a good alternative to the « go out spending money » mentallity. We can reverse it by providing these kinds of programms, raising awareness about others on other places.

Tell us about the Girl’s Guide ?

Her Highness just launched the new identity of the Girls Guide (scouting organization of the UAE). She is the President. She used to be a Girls Guide as a child and she says how she understood her duty to her country and people through that movement. That’s why she does what she does. And that’s why she is kean to develop the Girls Guide. Because that’s what will bring back the core values of the UAE to the kids. When we do it in fun and exciting way, it will last forever and be part of your personality. She called all the ladies to volunteer like she will. She is very close to Princess Benedicta from Denmark who is the Patron of the Baden Powell Society who came twice to visit the Girls Guide here. They share the same passion. Her Highness is also urging the wives of each Rulers of the other Emirates to open a chapter of Girl Guides. We miss only Dubai and Ajman but we are working on that. She also named two ambassadors to be an inspiration for the girls. She chose Susan Al Houbi, a Palestinian raised in Sharjah, who climbed Mount Everest and Sheikha Ahmed Al Qasimi, a niece of the Ruler, empowering young ladies and a columnist, to be their mentors. Let me give you an example of how Her Highness is. Going back to her car after the event, she saw all the trash the children had left behind them. She said that’s not what Girls Guide is about. She went back to teach them to leave their environment clean.

It must be a real challenge for women here to be torn between tradition and extreme modernity ?

Modern society brings a lots of positive things. Women now know the potential they have. So many organizations have helped them realize it. But they have lost contact with their kids. They may be too busy with their jobs. Their husbands are not always helping. Lots dont get their support. Their children and family are no longer a priority. It is one of the negative side effect of modern society. And Arabic… the youth is not even interested in its own language. And we are talking about more than 50% of the population. They look for the easiest, english or what we call arabisi (arab english slang). Everybody blames the youth but we are the ones responsible. They are the victims. We should provide them with interesting Arabic content.

Actually you just published the first science fiction novel in Arabic here ?

Sheikha Bodour, the eldest daughter of Her Highness, published two of my books for children, one about a cat and the other about a hedgedog. She actually encouraged me to write. I wrote about the contrast between a pet animal which you are responsible for and a wild one that you have to help but release it to the wild. I started to write because I realized that there were no Arabic books to read for children and young adults. Because my teenage daughter will never read Arabic litterature. It’s too complicated for them, they can’t relate. This is the same for a lot of young kids and as a result they turn to english books and loose their skills in Arabic. I myself looked for Arabic novels but I could not find any. I am interested in science fiction and fantasy. So I wrote and published my first novel last November. It is called « Ajwan ». It is the story of a girl whose planet is destroyed and she becomes a refugee. It deals about the disfranchised, the injustly treated and the unscrupulous who use these people to their benefits turning them into terrorists or thiefs. Some young people wrote to me to tell me it was the first novel they read in Arabic.

What advice would you give to women ?

Get your priorities straight, focus on what really matters and then you will probably do things in a different way and it will affect people around you. If children are your priority, you will have a better future. Maybe I am too idealistic.

Divorce and marriage in Dubai : statistics


4200 marriages

1100 divorces

7% less marriages between Emiratis

1% more between an Emirati and a foreigne

Divorce raised by 10% between 2009 and 2010 ; by 13% more between 2010 and 2011

Source : Dubai Statistics Center

Some of the reasons for divorce according to experts

Rapid social change

High cost of marraige and dowry

Married too quickly ; spouse not knowing each other enough

Exposition to other cultures

Rising independance of women

Loss of authority from men

Disparity in education levels between men and women

Disparity in age between spouse

Refusal to provide a separate home in case of polygamy

Family interfeering

Difficulty to communicate




Manque d’intimité

Alcool and drug abuse

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Abaya’s hijack : Abeer Al Suwaidi’s punk rock style

Publié le par Kyradubai

Abaya’s hijack : Abeer Al Suwaidi’s punk rock style

Abeer al Suwaidi opened her showroom, USH, in 2009. In Arabic, USH has the same sound as « nest ». And the young fashion designer also realized it meant hope or blessing in other languages. Therefore a very appropriate name for her shop, home to other designers’ lines as well. INTERVIEW with an excentric artist with a big heart and a crazy style.

You are diverting, twisting and playing around the abaya. Tell us more about your style and statement ?

I wanted to take the abaya on an experiment, to expose it to different influences. A bit edgy. It was worrying because it is one of the most precious thing in our culture. I wanted to give a twist to the classical abaya and express what I thought what should be the abaya. I did not know that others would even be interested. When I started using a lot of leather, belts, corset beautifying the body, I did not know how they would react. I used the room in the back almost as a lab and experimented. And we started to get people.

And the reactions were good ?

Exactly. So I was expressing myself Abeer.

And among men ?

We had a few angry husbands (she laughs). I actually had a girl who bought what I called the « skinny abaya ». Like the skinny jeans… And I wanted something I could call skinny at least (she burst into laughter). That’s what set the brand as what it is today. It is tight at the bottom. She was wearing it and walking inside the boutique saying « I want another one ». I was laughing saying « But you are wearing one ! ». « Yes, she said, but my husband is outside and he said no. So I am buying another one ». For her it was a statement but her husband was angry perambulating outside the boutique (ndlr : men are not allowed in the boutique). So we had a few of these funny situations. You get to know the customers more privately. It is not only a girl in the boutique. Their story is always behind the abaya. The people who wear my brand definitely want to walk making a statement.

How would you define this statement ?

Powerful, strong, courageous. The woman has something to say. Even if you are quiet, you are not verbally saying something, you do by wearing my abaya.

Do see them around sometimes ?

Yes. Here it is ! We like to spot them in public.

Because they are definitely recognizible ?

That’s the idea.

How did you came uo with the idea of changing the spirit of the classical abaya into this funky style ?

In fact all I did was take the old traditional abaya to reach the rest of the world. So anybody can get into it. It was difficult because there is a thine line. How do I make sure to change it from a classical piece to a modern contemporary piece. Actually all I did was going back to the classical heritage cuts and I manage to convertit into a line that the young can undertsand.

It is also a mirror of what is going on in Dubai ? A very traditional conservative culture and at the same time an international influence with different fashion style and materials coming from abroad ?

Yes definitely. We are evolving with what’s happening with our culture in Dubai.

Is it going smoothly ?

In the fashion industry ? (she laughs) It is going smoothly but that is why USH is here. If you find me « too much » or too expressive, too excentric or visible, you are definitely able get other pieces in the boutique which are still modern and contemporary but classical.

You do not want to hurt people ?


You do not want to go too fast but just offering a different option ?

Yes you’re supposed to be very comfortable wearing my pieces.

What materials are you using ?

My last collection is a lot of velvet. I work a lot with delicate handmade embroidery, antique embroidery with modern fabrics. I am using cotton. Non Emiratis were very interested in buying cotton abaya because it is closer to ready to wear. We use cotton a lot. The main fabrics used for abaya is saoudi crepe.

How do you feel as you wear this material ?

It’s nice. It depends on the quality. They are different types of crepe. It is soft and light. But we did jump to other fabrics like satin, cotton and lace and even sweater in winter.

And there are some very « rock and roll » materials, even punk ?

Yes. We have pikes, metal. That is the Abeer that’s inside ! That’s me, that’s truely something I wanted to express in the abaya. You still have these characters even wearing abayas. Rock girls, with strong personalities. My second fashion show, I did a Bob Marley collection which was very different because it was reggae. Evertytime I do a collection or a fashion show it is an extension of me.

And how did your family react ?

My parents are actually very supportive. Both of them are artists. They did oil painting when I was young so they understood what I was doing. But maybe a few uncles here and there… (she laughs), that I get a lecture from.

What do they tell you ?

Be careful. This is abaya. It is central in our culture and religion. Do not go too far, respect.

Would you consider not wearing an abaya ?

No. I love my abaya. As Emirati this is my identity. I love it.

You would feel awkward without it ?

Yes because it is telling everybody who I am, where I am from. We are lucky to have it because nobody can be mistaken. They will know that this is an Emirati woman walking. It is very rare around the world to spot someone and know who they are. For me abaya is pride. Wearing it tells everybody who I am.

Tell me about your background ?

I went to university in Abu Dhabi. I studied communication but then I joined the fashion industry. I always wanted to do fashion and I was always different in my fashion. I remember my 6 grade graduation. I was the only one who walked in with the hugest dress, so huge, like for a ball. Who does that ? How did my mom let me out ? Express myself like thits out of the family ? I actually came out in this biggest dress and I was walking on stage and I remember winning the award of the best dress. But I dont think the others thought it was cool at the time.

How do your peers, friends and family describe you ?

Excentric, a bit different, creative.

Which fashion designers do you look up to ?

Alexander Mc Queen, Vivien Westwood, and a lot of Japanese designers.

You lived abroad ?

I lived in Singapour for a year.

What do you wear under your abaya today ?

A black leggings with a black tank top and my pink fluorescent heels.

Who is your clientele ?

All ages. Young girls and up to 50 years old. Emiratis but also women from Qatar, Oman and even Yemen who don’t wear abaya.

What is your latest project ?

We just opened a boutique in House of Frazer in Abu Dhabi.

What difference in style do you see between Western and Middle Eastern women ?

Suffer for fashion ? I think we are more into it. I noticed the European market wants something lighter, comfortable. We are ready to suffer. The spikes the belt, the high high heels, and the make up. In fashion, we take it seriously ! And there is the total look from top to bottom. The purse goes with the shoes. They love it. Now I am starting a ready to wear line. We went to Ireland for a show and they liked the abayas so much. I was amazed they wanted it but of course naturally to them its too long, not practical. But they liked the style, the color black, and so I tried to come up with ready to wear pieces for Western clients.

What are you favorite shopping places in Dubai ?

If Boutique. A true boutique that’s offering something different.

Where do you hang out ?

I have no time to hang out but in winter i go to the desert. Close to the roads you will see all the Emiratis with their tents and teapots. We hang out until midnight all the generations and on another ill our friends. With the motorbikes, the quads…

A day in the life of Abeer

I wake up at around 7h30 with my kids. I am a mother of three. We sit together and talk. I lecture them to be nice and not hurt others… After they leave for school, I sketch and research. I have inspiration in the morning. I work with my husband. We work a lot which is good news, hamdulilla ! I have a one year old baby so we hang out and at 2h30 I go pick up my kids. I pass by the boutiques, see the production. In the evening I am back to my kids, put them in bed and by 8 or 9 I finally take a coffee and meet other designers. I do not have much of a « me » time these days or a social life. If anyone wants to take me out for coffee ? I hang out at Shakespeare at the village Mall. My personal and work life are very much intertwined.

Abaya’s hijack : Abeer Al Suwaidi’s punk rock style
Abaya’s hijack : Abeer Al Suwaidi’s punk rock style
Abaya’s hijack : Abeer Al Suwaidi’s punk rock style
Abaya’s hijack : Abeer Al Suwaidi’s punk rock style

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« I am the first woman surgeon in the UAE but not the first who tried »

Publié le par Kyradubai

« I am the first woman surgeon in the UAE but not the first who tried »

A UAE national, Dr Houriya Kazim is the country's first female surgeon. She says how she managed to climb the medical ladder and what challenges lie ahead of women here. Basically they have it all in their hands. INTERVIEW.

How does one become a traditional country’s first female surgeon? What is the secret recipe in your background ?

We are from Dubai but we traveled a lot during childhood with my father who is also a surgeon. When I was born he was doing his training in the UK, so I spent my first few years there. He worked in the Caribbean for a bit, in Canada and then came back here in the 70’s. So I spent my childhood abroad. In terms of medecine, I come from a family of doctors so it was no surprise that I went in medicine. My grand father was a « hakim », a faith healer. He never went to school or anything but the village would call on him when someone was sick and then the majority of his kids –I think he had about 25 children with all the wives- became doctors, even the girls. In those days we did not have schools, left alone universities or medical schools. So they were all educated in British Catholic schools in India and then went on to medical school there.

Catholic ?

Yes, yes –she laughs- there are lots of stories ! It took me a while to realize it ! The family is so big and we are all educated so I tought it was like that for everybody. Then I kind of thought « Well my dad’s cousins are not really like that ! » My dad is in his 80’s and most men that age in Dubai have not been formally educated and haven’t gone to university. Most of them are self made businessmen. So my dad says it was really his mother -from Ras Al Kaima- who was the one who pushed them. My grandfather had a dhow, so he used to go between India, here, Iran and so they just carted everybody, wives, etc, off to Bombay. As Bombay was part of the British Empire, they went to British Catholic school (she bursts into laughters). Which is good. He learnt english and went on to medical school with his brothers and sisters. So the rest of the family, not only my generation but the one after me, is going into medicine. So that’s not really much of a surprise. We are a very boring family !

On your website, you openly introduced yoirsefl as being married to an American TV journalist and being mother of two girls. Is that a way of giving confidence to your patients ?

I met my husband in Sharjah. He was covering the Iran-Irak war and was in the process of converting to Islam so it was convenient (she laughs). For me…

Did your parents like the idea ?

I am not sure they have still come around yet. It’s only been 25 years ! Probably not their first choice, lets put it that way. But it’s ok. And in fact, now that I’ve grown older, I start to appreciate the family. When you’re young, you tend to judge the family. But as you get older you start appreciating who you are and how you are is because of them. When I meet some of the other local women, I am just astounded by the battles that they have to fight. We have our own battles to fight but for me it was more professionally then in the family. I grew up in a family where I did not know that you actually had a choice, that you did not have to go to university and study. That was a given that you had to go. Everybody did. And now I tell my dad « But, hang on, there are all these people having coffee in the morning, capuccinos ! How come you did not tell me there was an alternative ! » (she laughs). Luckily I did not have to fight that but I do meet other women here who lead that battle. They have to fight to be educated or to be aloud to go away to study whatever it is they want to study. Still now.

What are the other battles women still have to fight here?

That is a big battle. Slightly better now because we have a lot of universities right here. Many international universities have a branche in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, which has made it much easier for these women whose family would never consider letting them go. Perhaps you don’t get educated in the same way as when you go away. Going abroad is a different education : it’s not just what you study, it’s that whole learning experience ; to be with other people ; independence ; cook ; clean. I never cooked in my father’s house and then I found myself in the middle of nowhere. Gotta eat ! There is so many Mc Donalds you can eat !

So where did you study ?

I got my main degree in Dublin.

Why Dublin ?

It was chosen for me. My GP and my dentist here were both Irish. They insisted. At the time they still had all the IRA problem and I remember my mother saying « No, no, bombs … » But they said that was in the North and the school was in Southern Ireland. My mother took a map and said « But that’s close enough ! » It took a lot of convincing. Then I did another degree in Canada and another one in Texas.

Then you moved on to become a breast surgeon specialist ?

When I graduated from Dublin, I came back to Dubai. I graduated in surgical oncology so I did my internship at the Rashid Hospital. Then I went back to the UK to finish my surgery qualifications to be a general surgeon and specialised in surgical oncology and then breast.

Is cancer still taboo here ? People used to call it « that disease » out of fear they would catch it ?

This was not only here. When I was in Ireland, I remember as medical students, we were not aloud to say the « C » word in front of the patients. Even then it was still very much a kind of covered up thing. Here cancer is now so prevalent, there are all kinds of cancers. A local lady told me the other day « Cancer has become like a flu ». So when I told her « You have cancer » and asked her if she was surprised, she said « No, everybody’s got it ». And that’s true. It’s the reality.

Are there more breast cancers here than in other parts of the world ?

We don’t know.

I read that women would have it ten years younger than in Europe and as early as 17 years old ?

We dont really have good statistics to be honest because we don’t have a cancer register. But what we do see is a trend which is similar to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa : women are getting breast cancer younger and they are getting particularly more aggressive types of cancer. And we don’t know why.

Even the foreigners?

Yes. This is why we need the cancer register. Obviously the majority of people living in Dubai are foreign so it’s really difficult to explain.

Are women particularly bashful about breast cancer here?

It waries. The young ones have so much access to information. And there has been a lot of awareness in the big cities. For older women who know it’s there, some can’t be bothered or think their time is up… I find it’s getting easier to talk to them about it. I find people superstitious, who still think that if you say it, you’ll get it or something like that. But because cancer has become so common, people are not shocked anymore.

Is awareness there ?

The awareness is there. The main problem that I face with my patients is that they are so young. These are women who are in the prime of their life. Their job, their careers, being moms and this is the time they are picking the cancers up. In France or the rest of Europe, 80% of breast cancers occur over the age of 50. Here, I am lucky if I see a 50 year old. Right now I’ve got two 28 year old. In their 30’s, 40’s… This is the thing I would now like to start looking at scientifically. As to why ? Because all the information we get from breast cancer come from countries where there is a lot of them and I am not sure we can take that information and put it here. For some reason we have something different, whether it’s genetically. Are we more prone to it ? We do all the things we are supposed to do to minimise our chances : have our kids young, breast feed children –it’s islamic to breast feed for two years-, not taking hormones. And we are still getting cancer and earlier than anybody else.

What has improved since your childhood here in general ?

It is completely different. Oh God ! I would come back to see my grandparents. From everthing : how they lived, quieter, slower. Now looking back that was probably nicer but I am saying that as an older person. In the 80’s when I came back to work at the Rashid hospital, I was young and single. I found it boring. I wanted it to have more. Now it is certainly more : anything from culture, art etc. I can’t believe how much we have now.

And on a woman’s perspective ?

I really haven’t had problems here in anyway. As I said, in my family it was just accepted that I was going to study. My mother, who got married as a teenager, is an extremely strong woman. You don’t realize it until you grow up and looking back you think a lot depends on who brings you up. My mother’s mantra was always « No is not possible, does not exist in my dictionnary ». You never say « No » to her, you never say « It is not possible ». Everything is possible. Depends on what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve it. She is still like that. She lives half the year in California ; she is an artist and is completely different. Now, even within my own country, when I said I wanted to do medicine I was on a government scholarship and nobody said « No you’re a girl and you can’t do it ». Despite the fact that surgery is historically and still is a male dominated field. They did not say « You better be a gynecologist or a pediatrician or something a bit more for women ». There was never any question. So I was very lucky I had the support the whole way. And even when I came back, there were no female surgeon cunsultant but there was not any problem because I think people realized that the need was there. So I would see patients who would prefer a woman to examine them eventhough I was at the lowest rank of the ladder. Obvioulsy when I became the first female surgeon in the UAE, there was only 2% women surgeons in the UK and 10% in America. So it’s not like we were that far behind !

I can see why now. At the time I followed what I liked, my passion. It’s not an easy road. It’s not something I would want my children to do because it is long and tiring and you give up a big chunk of your life.

You have two daughters aged 6 and 8 ?

Yes but I had them in my 40’s because for me it was impossible to do it all at the same time.

Would you say there is equality between men and women here ?

I have never experienced that you can’t do this or you can’t do that. Never. Even at home, when we meet as a family with all the uncles and aunts, we eat all together… Where it is very traditional to sit separate.

But you come from a very liberal family, it’s quite rare ?


You are not covered ?

Yes and that’s me. And there are women in the family who do. This is how I work. I can’t cover and do what I do.

Did you ever wear it ?

No. Not regularly.

And your parents never forced you to ?

Not at all. I do have lots of aunts and cousins who do and that’s fine. You do whetever you want. But for me it’s cumbersome. I’m dealing with blood and guts.

One thing is your family and your personal choice but how does society react to it ?

Most of the people who wear sheila and abaya, do it more by tradition than by religion. You see them wearing it loose, with the hair. It is more a fashion thing. Those people do not have any problems. The people who do say things to me are the ones who wear the tight hijab and sometimes the niqab for religious matters. But in our religion you cannot force somebody to do it. They have to embrace it. That’s why we embrace Islam. Nobody can force you to convert. Nobody can force you to cover. So it’s fine. I always get around that.

What are the challenges lying ahead for women ?

My main thing and this is what I am trying to say to women, is that whatever it is they chose to do, it’s not easy to get to the top. And we have a lot of other cultural issues that we have to deal with. Normally you join the line at the bottom and you work your way up to the top. The problem we have here, is that some of these girls who are really bright, who do well at university, join the line but there is the pressures to get married, to have a baby, their husband asking them to stay home, forbidding them to go off to work. Then that line ends. So this is the problem that we still haven’t broken through. We have that drive ourselves to have it all but to keep going and not stoping, to ignore the outside influence, is still at stake. I became the first female surgeon but I was not the first to try and the problem is that people give in. That’s why I had my kids late. In any field I see people starting off and then break away. And that kind of upsets me a little bit.

What other problem to do you witness ?

They have the support. Women usually can’t break away because they need to be on that job line anyway. But here, if the husband says « You don’t need to work, I make enough money to take care of you », plus they get a house or whatever that’s given by the governement… They don’t push it as hard as they could. And that’s what I find is lacking. And it’s not that anybody is stopping them, given all the opportunities they are given in this country, by law. It’s not that we’re living in Iran where there is a list of jobs that women are not aloud to do. We don’t have this here. Everything is open for us. But I would like to see that passion. This girl today asked me for a sick leave for two days because she is pregnant. I said « Why do you want me to give you a sick leave ? ». « I want to to rest ». I operated in the morning and I delivered in the afternoon. Pregnancy is not a sickness, she is just having a baby. I get upset when I see that. Because that just tells me that they are not enjoying their job, they are not somewhere they feel a real passion for the work. Like everything else, I know a lot of people in our country who want the government jobs and I’d rather see a woman take a job that they love, that they can really see that they can make a differenece in and work towards it. It’s not always the nice good coushy government job with all the perks that you get. Because I think that in the end it’s gonna show. If I’m good at something and I do this for my country than it will show rather than if I am just doing my job 9 to 5.

Do you speak arabic at home ?

Very badly. My daughters need arabic tuition. This is a problem.

Did you have a traiditional mariage ?

We did ! A three day ! (she laughs)

That must have been something for your husband !?

No because he lived in the East for a long time. In and out because of his job he’s lived in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran, where the wars were. In fact he knows the country better than I do sometimes, and the religion definitely better than I do. When you are brought up in something you take it for granted. As he had to study, he really got into it. He had that nice East–West mix, that I had as well. I am from here but spent a lot of my life outside. So he was kind of the reverse from the West.

Dr Houriya Kazim founded the Well Woman Clinic


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Ebtisam Abdulaziz : « I was born an artist »

Publié le par Kyradubai

Ebtisam Abdulaziz : « I was born an artist »

Sitting in the midst of the 163 pieces she just showed at The Third Line Galery, in Al Quoz Dubai, Ebtisam Abdulaziz, one of the most brilliant artist of the UAE, tells about herself. Her art works as a reflection, erecting bridges between her experience and the viewers'. QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS.

When did you know you would become a professional artist ?

I was born an artist. My family found I acted different from my brothers (2) and sisters (3). I loved to sit alone, writing, drawing, sketching. I am very curious. I would go searching for things in my dad’s cupboard. He actually was supposed to be an artist –he loves painting and calligraphy ; he has a nice handwriting - but sacrificed everything to raise us. Every Friday he would organize a movie projection at home so in his cupboard I would find lots of stuff like lenses, pieces of film roll. My mum had a very lovely voice. They were ready to have an artist in the family.

Your father encouraged you to become an artist?

My father used to travel a lot. He gave me colorful papers and pastel painting. Before my graduation, he would see me painting. He even framed one of my drawing for a friend ambassador. When I was twelve, I was reading this art magazine my dad used to bring back from Kuweit until 5 in the morning. He would find me reading it when he woke up for his prayers. I was naughty in a way, doing things that my family was not really happy with.

Did you get support from elsewhere?

In grade 7, I was very good at painting and during a class I helped a friend. The teachers reaction was to kick my ass for it instead of appreciating. There was no serious curriculum in art.

You alwways hesitated betwwn art and science. How did you manage to join the two fields?

At school, there was a lot of competitions in drawing but there was no art curriculum yet. When I graduated, I knew nothing about the big names. In Al Ain university I chose to study something related to art or science, math to be more specific, which I love. It was a tough decision. In Al Ain, there was a college related to art but it was more to become an art teacher.

What did these acacdemic years teach you?

Being a girl in an arabic family, suddenly going alone at university helped me become more independent, detached. All around the UAE, arabic families have lots of rules. You depend on your father. Boys have much more power and freedom. So starting university, meeting people, exchange with other girls, not go home at night, be on your own. It is real life suddently : you have to count on yourself, get to know who you are and discovering the freedom that we all need.

But what about art?

One year before graduation, the university organized an art competition among all the students. I thought « Lets do a sketch ». The next day, the professor came to me and asked : « Did you study art ? ». I was doing a degree in maths. He said I should take the first price because he felt bad his students were doing less good after having taken classes. It was the first tme someone appreciated what I was doing and encouraged me.

Maths weren't enough anymore?

After graduating in maths, I did something one would call crazy. I sometimes do crazy stuff. I am a very moody person. So I started doing graffiti on the white wall in my accomodation room. The supervisor started shouting : « You will be fired ! » I told her I loved to do that. And actually it looked nice so she told me to paint it back in white and she did not report it.

The name of this show is "Autobiography 2012". How would you define yourself?

As a person I am sensitive. Anything can make me cry : seeing a poor man on the street. But at the same time I am a very strong woman. I can fight anyone to get what I want in terms of my rights. And I have a lot of dignity. I am a very moody person. I love crazy things. I cannot be in a routine. I like ups and downs. I love working. I have to have a project. I cried the night after the exhibition started. It was like delivering the baby. My sister said "Comon you cried before the exhibition and now you cry again !"

Is your career the priority?

I am not married. Maybe I have been too busy doing things. Or maybe men don't see buzy women as a good wife. I am trying to find the reason ! And I am too smart. Smart is a challenge for Arab men. I am a very logical person. I can accept talking in a very logical way. Artists have a bad reputation : they are more crazy people, not stable, they have strange moods… But my target is to get married in 2013 ! I am still this curious little girl so I want to explore how it is to be a wife and mother.

After graduating in maths, how did you move to become an artist?

I graduated in 1999. I could get a job easily wiht my certificate but I told my Dad that I would at least take a course in art. So my sister drove me to the Fine Art Society in Sharjah and I was lucky because they said a three months course was starting the following day. I learnt basic still life, charcoal, pencil, pastel, acrylic. We got lectures on modern and conceptual art. My work was exhibited. I got the certificate. My Dad said "Hallas ! Now you come home ! "But i said I wanted to do more and I joined the Art Society, used their faclities, read their library books. They became my friends and I was little by little part of the group.

When did you have your first exhibition?

In 2004, I told someone there I had this thing on my mind but I couldn't do a painting about it : I wanted to mix maths, science and art. And he told me to read about the systematic art movement of the 1940’s. And I used it in my art and I came out with 4 or 5 huge projects around maths. I did my first solo exhibition in Sharjah Art Museum. The first really serious exhibition.

You use codes in your work. Explain.

I want to encourage people to investigate, search and ask. It is not only esthetics but I want to speak to the educated people and have a dialogue with them through my art pieces. I dont want them to say "Oh these are lovely colors", but i want them to think different. What message is behind ? Each piece has a concept. This is why I don't have a medium. The concept drives the medium. I will use video if I need movement and sound. I will use installation.

Why Ebtisam 2012?

It says something about me. Here you have an autobiography of Ebtisam 2012. I am using different outputs and elements. The domino is three paintings : drawing on canvas with a black pen. It says so much about Ebtisam. Behind is my character, my biography. When I was driving, the plate numbers attracted my attention. Each car was like the I.D. of the person driving. I tried to find an equation to relate to these numbers. I thought I should include this because it says a lot about me. I collected plate numbers from a trip from Sharjah to Abu Dhabi. I collected plate numbers coming in order and I thought about the domino because it has something to do with my childhood. We used to play it as kids. It is something familiar to Ebtisam but it gives something to others. I encourage the audience to read domino in a different way and do calculations in their minds. It says a lot about my personality : I am a minimal, sharp and honest person. It is close to me.

Are you an obsessed person?

I love systems. Sometimes I go crazy without system. I have a routine in the morning and if one part’s missing, I miss one, I feell something’s wrong.

Do you say personal things in a hidden way because privacy is very much valued in the Emirati culture ?

Yes and no. Drawing my diary says so many things in an abstract and hidden way. It is not because I am not strong enough to say it but it happened that way. I can stand in front of an audience and talk about women issues around the world related to all aspects. But this time it happened that way. It is more abstract. I dont hide myself. I am not afraid of breaking rules or borders.

In your opinion, what challenges lie ahead women in the UAE?

As an artist representing the UAE at the first Venice Bienale, I was happy my dad saw my performence. He just smiled. He understood how serious I was and he had a big question mark when he saw it. I was standing next to him explaining it to someone and he was surprised. He had a good reaction. How come an arabic, islamic woman, does that ? He did not say anything though. One of our issues is how can we do things without upseting . What are our borders ? What are we aloud or not to do ? The freedom is sometimes an issue. I cannot travel alone: it is my father’s decision. Not matter my age.

How old are you?

I am 36. We need a solution for that. And I need someone in my life who will not stand in my way and stop me from doing things. I am mature enought to chose what is right and what is wrong.


Ebtisam abdulaziz first solo show « Autobiography 2012 » at The Third Line was hold between December 5, 2012 until January 16, 2013. “A work that seamlessly shift between intimacy and science, imparting details into the artist’s private thoughts and the visual coding that symbolizes her systematic thinking“.


She is a multidisciplinary local artist and writer based in the UAE. Reflecting her Bachelor’s Degree in Science & Mathematics, Abdulaziz incorporates her unique perspective on mathematcs and the structures of systems rto explore issues of identity and culture through installations, performance pieces and works on paper. Abdulaziz has exhibited as part of the Inaugural UAE and ADACH Pavilions at 53rd Venice Biennale, as well as the 7th Sharjah Biennial ; Languages of the Desert, the Kunst Museum, Bonn, Germany : Dubai Next, a collaboration between the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and Vitra Design Museum Basel, 2008 ; Arab Express, a group exhibition at The Mori museum, Tokyo, 2012 ; 25 years of Arab Creativity, the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris ; Inventing The World : The Artists as a Citizen, Benin Biennial 21012, Kora Cnetre, Benin ; Abdulaziz is a member of the Emirates Fine Art society and Tashkeel editorial team, was a participant in the 2007 Emirates Foundation Grant Program Art Panel, and has recently been selected as one of the artists for the 2013 Artists-in-Residency Dubai program, a collaboration between Art Dubai, Delfina Foundation, The Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) and Tashkeel. Abdulaziz work is housed in several prominent public and private collections world wide including the Collection of Deutsche Bank AG, Germany ; Farook collection, UAE and Ministry of Culture & Youth Collection, Abu Dhabi, UAE. She currently lives and works in Sharjah, UAE.

Courtesy of The Third line.

« Abdulaziz’s work lies at the crux of ht epush-pull of order/disorder, and of private/public. As viewers we are complicit in the work, and read and weave into i tour own daily lives ; the artist appears to expose the daily intimacy of domestic life, yet through her method of working and reworking, of creating and recreating interpretive systems, she actually builds protective layers of meaning into her work. »

Antonia Carver, Fair Director, Art Dubai

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« As CEO of DEPE I am another proof that women can lead »

Publié le par Kyradubai

« As CEO of DEPE I am another proof that women can lead »

Laila Mohamed Suhail is the young CEO of the Dubai Events and Promotions Establishments (DEPE). From her office, she sets the tempo event of a city that has earned the reputation of being one of, if not THE most run shopping destination in the world. INTERVIEW.

Tell us about the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) and the Dubai Events and Promotions Establishments (DEPE) ?

The DSF was launched in 1995 by Sheikh Mohammed and the first event took place a year later. We used to be an office. It is the major city Festival of Dubai. We work as an organization falicitating that. In 1998, we launched Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS), the second city festival. It was a major impact in terms of visitors. In 2008, we then proceeded with Eid in Dubai and Ramadan in Dubai. In 2009, a new decree was passed by our Ruler to change the mandate of the DSF office to be known as the Dubai Events and Promotions Establishments (DEPE). We received a new assignment to work on a calendar of events, as a platform to facilitate the organization of all events in Dubai. I am the CEO of DEPE.

May I ask how old you are to be in charge of these highly successful festivals in a city like Dubai, one of the favorite shopping destinations in the world ?

I am 36 years old.

How did all this happened ?

I started with DSF as the Sponsorship Coordinator in 1995. I was then employee of the government for the Department of Economic Development. I have grown to Sponsor Manager in 2000, Chief Marketing officer in 2004 and promoted Chief Executive Officer of DSF in 2008. First I accumulated exeperience with the organization which associated us from the beginning. The scope and the nature of it is too vibrant and active so while organizing you interact with the private sector, the government, the media. It gives you a huge amount of experience and knowledge. In have been involved in 32 city festivals : 17 years for the DSF and 15 years for the DSS. I was involved with these events from inception.

How did you build this career being a woman ?

As Emirati women, we receive great support from our leaders especially Sheikh Mohammed. He is always encouraging women leadership. I am also heading the Dubai Sports Comittee headed by the Crown Prince who has great belief in sports. So even there we have good support.

Whose idea was it to launch the DSF ?

His highness.

You seem passionate about your job ?

I am passionate, yes. It is a very unique sector where you interact with different stakeholders, with different sectors of the city, different people. Organizing events in a city like Dubai you get to interact with so many different nationalities.

Ambitious ?

I am passionate, I love my job. I love the events sector and I am also a creative person. I like to think of new ideas. I love challenges. Marketing is my passion.

What better canvas than Dubai ?

Dubai is a reality where ideas come to life, a place where dreams come true. In the last 15 years we have seen Dubai Marina, Downtown, Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall. All these visions, we feel them every day. Ideas are realized here. It pushes you to be creative when you see the results.

How many visitors DSF attracted in the beginning and now ?

We started with a million plus visitors and we had 4,6 million in 2012. We had 15 malls and today there are more than 50. We had 1000 retail brands and there are more than 6000 retail outlets participating in sales and discount now.

What is the secret or the reason for such a success ?

Our communication with the sectors. The most exciting part is that we all work together the government and the private sector. There are lots of synergies. This is the reason for our success in Dubai. People from abroad ask us « how do you make it happen ? » It’s this relationship, the team work, supporting each other. They sponsor our events, we involve them in our activities, we give feedback, we consult them, we support them, we make their business easier.

As a brand specialist, you would say Dubai is the best brand to work for ?


Why is it important for the brands to be part of DSF ?

DSF is one of the strongest season for retailing. They plan promotions and activities in advance.

Tell us about your background ?

I have a diploma from London City College for Processing and Programing. I am now doing via Internet a Masters in Programing with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

How did you convince the sponsors in the region and overseas ?

That this is a city where dreams become reality. People believe that in Dubai. So the private sector believed in the city and its leadership who built Dubai as a brand and believed in this brand. The retailers feel the benefits of the festivals and see the increase in visitors.

What is your next challenge ?

Dubai has been growing tremendously. When DSF was launched in 1996, the city was different. Today it needs more and more activities, expectations are very high from the government and the public. So they look for us to reinvent and rejuvenate the festivals.

What are you most proud of ?

Being involved with a unique sector which supports the economy and the growth of the city. I am proud of being involved in the events sector and being associated with the brands DSF and DSS. I did 18 DSF, 16 DSS and 8 Eids !

How many employees do you manage ?

65 in all DEPE structure.

How is it to manage men as a woman ?

We are blessed in this county to have a government which believes in woman and our capabilities. Though here in the Middle East we live in a “man’s” world, our government recognized the potentials in us. Nowadays the percentage of women in leading roles within the government has raised and is raising. I think DEPE is another proof that women can lead and I have been doing this for quite some time now. I have started as a joiner staff 18 years ago with DSF and now I head a professional team that managed to deliver renowned festivals with international recognition.

Are you married ?

No but I have a big family with eight borthers and sisters and my mother. My father passed away last year. I spend time with my sisters’ kids.

In which field did your parents work?

My father was a customs employee and my mother a housewife.

They must be proud of you ?

They are. Their prayers at home, that’s what helpd us going also.

Can you imagine, your mother in your place forty years ago ?

We are a 41 year old country. All of us are very proud of the achievements of our country. Such a huge development and growth in such a short period of time.

What is your relationship with Sheikh Mohammed ?

I have seen him a lot of times. Despite all his responsibilities, he always treats you as if he was close to you and encourages you to do more, encourages the leadership team.

What are the main qualities he has, that comes first to your mind ?

He is a true leader. A man who can make dreams come true and a loving father : he deals with us as if we were his kids.

It is not the only time I hear that and such a relationship is very particular to Dubai ?

We are very emotional as a people.

What do you want to become as a young girl ?

So many things. A doctor, an engineer.

What would you say to young women who wish to start a career ?

I say we are blessed to be born in the UAE and in this country we have great opportunities. All it requires is passion and hard work and we can achieve .

What are your best shopping places in the world ?

London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapour. I shop everywhere. I am a shopoholic !

The best shopping place in Dubai ?


For more information :

The Dubaï Shopping Festival ends February 3rd 2013

Dubai Shopping Festival 1996 – 2011

Facts & Figures

• The longest running festival of its kind in the world (18 years)

• Total number of visitors reached 50 million

• Total spending reached AED 88 Billion

• Value of prizes reached AED 1.4 Billion

• More than 40 activities recorded in the Guinness Book of Records

Year Visitors Total Spend

1996 1,6 million AED 2,15 Billion

2010 3.5 million AED 10 Billion

2011 3.98 million AED 15.1 Billion

2012 4.36 million AED 14.7 Billion

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